Book Review: Alan Moore's "Jerusalem"
“Are you still listening to that terrible book? Why?”
I can’t count how many times my wife has asked me that question this past year. For a while I kept holding out hope that the book would turn-around. It didn’t. So while I did finish the book, I kind of regret losing 60+ hours of my life doing so. Huh... 60+ hours?
The book in question is Alan Moore’s Jerusalem - a 1200 page tome that translates to a 60-hour audio book. This book was, for me - and I don’t say this lightly, the most dreadful thing I’ve ever read. Stay far away from this book. If you don’t know who Alan Moore is, don’t start with this book. If you do know who Alan Moore is, don’t bother with this book. If you love Alan Moore’s work in comics forget this book even exists. Get the picture?
My instinct was to not solely blame Moore but also the book’s editor for allowing a rambling volume of this size to go to print. Then I found this little quote
“Any editor worth their salt would tell me to cut two-thirds of this book but that’s not going to happen. I doubt that Herman Melville had an editor – if he had, that editor would have told him to get rid of all that boring stuff about whaling: ‘Cut to the chase, Herman’,” [Moore] told the New Statesman in 2011.
Thus we see two root causes of the problems with Jerusalem. First, Moore’s thinks no editor can touch his "masterpiece." Moore and Moore alone is the best person for the job. (He’d probably also represent himself if he ever stood trial.) Moore is dead wrong. This book really needed an editor. It could have easily been 20% of its final size and at least been considered a workable story and novel.
Second, Moore's self-comparison to Melville demonstrates a level of ego that is pervasive throughout the book. And that goes to how I can best sum up Jerusalem. It is a novel of arrogance, ego and hubris. “Look at me! Aren’t I clever? See how many different styles of writing I can pack into 1200 pages? Isn’t that just genius? See me describe even the slightest event in the most unnecessarily colorful language ever put to paper. See how I can make even the tamping out of a cigarette sound like an ode to stars twinkling in the heavens? Have you ever seen anyone display such genius in writing before?”
In addition to ever changing styles of writing that serve to annoy more than to add to the story, Moore has non-sensical chapters. There is a chapter on the history of currency. There is a chapter section written in Olde English or Scottish or some other dialect that makes a swath of the book incomprehensible to the human ear. There are chapters used to describe dozens of pieces of art at an art show - without adding any real punch to the story. And Moore seems a bit obsessed with trying to develop language that combines blatant pornography with fine literature. It doesn’t work. It just looks like Moore is obsessed with ejaculation.
The novel is broken down into three books. That alone should tell you something. If Moore really wanted to publish this work then why not do it as a trilogy? (Although I still think one book of around 200 pages would have served best.) The only reason I can see is that he wanted to produce one of the world’s longest books by putting into one work every literary idea that was filling up his idea journal. Again, arrogance and ego. Or, at the very least, a complete disregard for the reader's enjoyment.
I could go on and on but then I’d be no better than Moore. All I can say is avoid this book. It is, by far, the least favorite thing I’ve read/listened to in my life. I would recommend this book to no one.