Jerusalem Preloaded Digital Audio Player – Unabridged, February 10, 2017
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- Publisher : Recorded Books; Unabridged edition (February 10, 2017)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 1501951750
- ISBN-13 : 978-1501951756
- Item Weight : 6 ounces
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But its prose is a marvelous tangle of description, simile, and wordplay.
Let’s begin with a feature that may well be off-putting for many readers—the obsessive specification of the exact streets and landmarks among which the action takes place: the grubby precinct of London which Moore refers to as “The Boroughs.” A map is provided in the endpapers of the book.
Here’s a typical paragraph:
He gestured drunkenly around them as they reached the bottom of the rough trapezium of hunched-up ground called Castle Hill, where it joined what was left of Fitzroy Street. This last was now a broadened driveway leading down into the shoebox stack of ’Sixties housing where the feudal corridors of Moat Street, Fort Street and the rest once stood. It terminated in a claustrophobic dead-end car park, block accommodation closing in on two sides while the black untidy hedges representing a last desperate stand of Boroughs wilderness, spilled over on a third.
You can follow the action along on the map if you wish, but it doesn’t add a great deal to understanding the novel. Moore specifies street names when a character goes for a walk, including each and every turn. No one ever just walks down a generic street. This pattern is the one thing that annoyed me about his prose because it is so repetitious and mostly irrelevant. But it’s all of a piece with his desire to embed his fantastically baroque story in a thickly woven web of specific detail. His style reminds me of those Medieval illuminated manuscripts in which a text is ornamented with scrolls, flowers, and fantastic beasts crowding all the margins and other spaces into which something decorative can be inserted.
Note how it’s not just a driveway, but a “broadened driveway; not a simple parking lot, but “a claustrophobic dead-end car park.” The vast majority of nouns are modified, often multiply: adjectives and adverbs abound.
For the right sort of reader, the densely ornamented prose is not a forbidding dark hedge, but a maze of wonders. His writing flows nicely, even though reading some of his sentences aloud requires two or more breaths.
He scatters metaphors and similes in profusion throughout the text. For instance, consider the next paragraph:
When this meagre estate had first gone up in Mick and Alma’s early teenage years the cul-d-sac had been a bruising mockery of a children’s playground, with a scaled down maze of blue brick in its centre, built apparently for feeble minded leprechauns, and the autistic cubist’s notion of a concrete horse that grazed eternally nearby, too hard-edged and uncomfortable for any child to straddle, with its eyes an empty hole bored through its temples. Even that, more like the abstract statue of a playground than an actual place, had been less awful than this date-rape opportunity and likely dogging hotspot, with its hasty skim of tarmac spread like cheap, stale caviar across the pink pedestrian tiles beneath, the bumpy lanes and flagstone closes under that. Only the gutter margins where the strata peeled back into sunburn tatters gave away the layers of human time compressed below, ring markings on the long-felled tree stump of the Boroughs. From downhill beyond the car park and the no-frills tombstones of its sheltering apartment blocks there came the mournful shunt and grumble of a goods train with its yelp and mutter rolling up the valley’s sides from the criss-cross self-harm scars of the rail tracks at its bottom.
He piles one figure of speech atop another, explores them in detail, indulges in word-play and creates prose that resembles less a walk along a path than a complex ballet with the reader bewildered in its center. Nothing much “happens” for long stretches, but the verbal action is relentless.
In the world of Jerusalem the images of the dead are often accompanied by a string of after-images trailing and fading out behind them. Time after time Moore comes up with a new simile for this effect, clearly delighting in displaying his fertile imagination. The idea never “goes without saying.”
Many readers will find this sort of thing off-putting; but if, like me, you find it delightful, there’s plenty of it: the novel is 1,262 pages long.
So exquisitely mundane is most of the early narrative that the moments of fantasy leap out shockingly from the page, and even after these have accumulated for hundreds of pages it is stunning to find ourselves halfway through the novel plunged into an extraordinarily detailed and original afterlife world where most of the characters are “dead.”
Much of the subject matter is grim, threatening, haunting (in both figurative and literal senses); but the prose is exuberant, playful, often amusing. Whereas most modern fiction pares away tedious description to immerse us in the action, Moore immerses us in the funhouse of his prose where we’re sometimes in danger of losing track of the plot altogether. In this book the point is in the telling, more than in the tale.
Moore plays all kinds of linguistic games, writing in varied styles including Victorian gothic, Chandleresque hardboiled detective, and the sort of experimental punning mish-mash that makes up James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake in a chapter that embodies the tale of the author’s mad daughter, Lucia:
Awake, Lucia gets up wi’ the wry sing of de light. She is a puzzle, shore enearth, as all the Nurzis and the D’actors would afform, but nibber a cross word these days, deepindig on her mendication and on every workin’ grimpill’s progress.
I count at least ten puns or other sorts of wordplay in these two sentences alone which open the chapter allusively titled “Round the Bend.” It goes on like that for 48 dense pages.
One chapter is written entirely in verse, beginning thus:
Den wakes beneath the windswept porch alone
On bone-hard slab rubbed smooth by Sunday feet
Where afternoon light leans, fatigued and spent,
Ground to which he feels no entitlement
Nor any purchase on the sullen street;
Unpeels his chill grey cheek from chill grey stone
Then orients himself in time and space.
The desire to be oriented in time and space is constantly challenged. Although the novel is structured something like a mystery, there is no culminating Big Reveal. One major hanging plot thread never gets wrapped up at all. The last chapter brings together many scenes and characters earlier touched on, but not in a way that explains everything.
Moore is best known as a writer for DC superhero comic books and as author of the similarly playful historical fantasy The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the graphic novel, much better than the awful movie). But this is his masterpiece: dazzling, diverting, and utterly delightful.
This is a life's work.
So, you ask, what is this book about? It’s about Moore’s old Northampton neighborhood, which he terms “the boroughs” throughout the book. However, we don’t just see the outer, physical Northampton; we see it as a collection of ectoplasm layers. It’s all part of a multiverse created by the “builders”. These are angelic creatures who work to construct the “mansoul” or continuous reality of the boroughs.
The book jumps all over the place, time-wise, but it does have a point and direction. The end game is to get us to an opening at a local gallery by an artist named Alma Warren. I won’t say any more about the opening, other than Alama is a stand-in, in some ways, for Moore himself. There’s also her brother Mick, whom is headed toward the same direction. However, you’ll have to wade through this massive book yourself to learn how Moore wraps it up. Much of the second section is told from the viewpoint of Michael “Mick” Warren while he undergoes a near-death experience. As a toddler, he swallows a gumdrop and chokes. This incident forces his mother to run for the doctor. However, in the meantime, little Michael has a vision of the ghostly inhabitants of the boroughs. He accompanies a group of spectral children, known as the “Dead Dead Gang”, while they make their rounds. Along the way, we learn about the ghost-steam and how a game of billiards at the top level between is affected by Michael’s existence.
The reader must prepare themselves for Moore’s mastery of dialect:
‘“The ghost-seam’s what it saynds like. It’s a ragged seam what joins the Upstairs to the Dayn-below, and it’s where all the real ghosts ’ang ayt, all the ones what don’t feel comfortable up ’ere. It’s like the Second Borough’s on the top with the First Borough underneath, and in between them there’s the ghost-seam, like when yer go in a pub and all the fag-smoke’s ’anging in the air like a grey blanket, wobblin’ abayt when people move and cause a draught. That’s what the ghost-seam’s like. ’Ere, look ’ere on the right. It’s Spring Lane Terrace, what I said abayt, one of the streets what got pulled dayn to make the playing field.”’
One of the reasons I won’t give away much of the plot is that a certain West Coast reviewer, whom I will not dignify to mention, already has done so. He also turned up his nose at Moore, who wasn’t pure enough for the reviewer’s postmodern brain. I will say no more.
One thing you have to learn while reading this book is that it’s broken up into different writing styles. For instance, there is a whole section that’s inspired by James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, so if you have issues with idiosyncratic words, grit your teeth and prepare for a long, tough read.
“Hi lufts caerphrilly scurthem towar belley, seewish tissuewife hairglossnin’ per se. Eashe clambs patwina prisperation-beauded nays, elucs apter wedjoy unserrow manguilt ennis inklindecent whyes.”
The novel is filled with hordes of memorable characters. I can’t even begin to list them in this review. The major thread is of the Vernall family. Ern Vernall has a bad encounter with an angel in the opening and goes mad as a result. It’s a constant them I the book, as to how one man’s touch of the divine effects his family.
Get used to inmate descriptions of how people lived a hundred years ago in this part of England. I could’ve done with less detail on toilets and how people took care of body waste, but I appreciate Moore’s attention to detail.
Moore soars in the descriptive parts:
“Whatever the real reason, Tommy had been out of sorts with things that night in the Blue Anchor. Him and Frank had run into some chaps Frank knew from work but who Tom weren’t so chummy with, so he’d begun to feel a bit left out and thought perhaps he’d try another pub. Tom had made his apologies to Frank then left him chatting with his mates while he’d put on his coat and stepped out through the pub’s front door into Chalk Lane. It had been very like tonight, with all the fog and everything, but being down there in the Boroughs as opposed to up here on the prosperous Wellingborough Road, it had been a lot eerier. Even St. Edmund’s Church with all its looming tombstones just across the street didn’t give you the shivers, at the stroke of midnight, how some places in the Boroughs could do even by the light of day.”
When Moore writes about his love for his neighborhood, the book shines. He manages to illuminate every small detail where he came of age. It’s no small surprise that he’s one of the best comic book writers in history. I’ve read a number of his essays and they’re all brilliant.
Another one of the main themes in the book is how the people at the top manage to lord it over at those at the bottom. He writes with sadness about how much of the borough was destroyed and torn down after WW1. He talks about how Northampton was always a center of the commoners' rage. This is tied to a monk from the middle ages, who brings a holy relic home from the Mideast.
I give this novel all the stars I can just so people will take the time to read it. Jerusalem is a masterpiece of English literature. It should be taught at every college.
All in all, I am glad I read this book, but there were times I felt like Moore was double dog daring me to stop reading.
Those things said, this is a truly epic work of fantasy and can only be seen as a mammoth undertaking. Moore not only creates a rich world replete with pathos and joy but one of incredible depth that speaks to the sadness we all feel about places and times gone forever.
Top reviews from other countries
I hope that is not the kiss of death in these days when Presidents can rule by tweet and Prime Ministers by Facebook Live; but this long book is a serious addition to literature.
In places almost fantasy, but a hair's breadth away from the real world. Biblical in structure - a number of interlinked books- and dealing with many of the same themes. The main philosophical theme is the age old dispute about determinism and free-will - no spoiler - do read the book. Or, as a philosophy tutor from my old College would write on essays, RTFB (sorry Mary).
From gritty realism and politics,to the sex-life of ghosts (or is it 'Townsmen of a stiller town'), and on to artistic technique, taking in a wide loop of the Nene through history . Connecting two centres of the world, but looking into the back parlour and the scullery. Solomon and Leopold Bloom rub shoulders on a trip to Bunhill Fields and back via Cirrus Minor.
There must be, wizn't there?, a connection between Bunhill Fields and the Boroughs - but perhaps only Upstairs.
The ending of the Book is truly magnificent - the genius of a line thrown away like a cheap lighter.
Thank you Mr Moore. Bravo.
Fantasies and illusions, facts and fictions, plays and poems, ghosts and demons, literary and historical figures, spouting nonsense or wisdom, trespass beyond the grave. Urchin-like, all-seeing children, telling their tales, drift invisibly between the worlds. Working class ethics, free market swindles, angels doing battle for souls. Drug-addled prostitutes, depraved and ruthless dealers, the devil is in an old Ford?
A surrealist’s study in English history?
A religious and political ode?
The ramblings of Enid Blyton during a mushroom phase?
Required reading for those of us just passing through?
Sometimes over descriptive and repetitive, it could have done with being a couple of hundred pages shorter, I often felt like putting it away. Yet it was always enlightening, and usually compelling, and I’d like to visit Northampton someday.
There is light and darkness throughout this sprawling novel and all shades in between. Jerusalem will stay with me for a long time.