Book Review: Jerusalem by Alan Moore

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Moore is more commonly known as a writer of graphic novels such as V for Vendetta and Watchmen. This novel is almost 1500 pages long, which makes it a bit of commitment to read. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Jerusalem is one of the top 20 longest books ever written. The entire story takes place in the UK town of Northampton, specifically the neighborhood called The Boroughs. This is Moore’s hometown, and as such, he fills it with a lot of local color. One could argue that The Boroughs is the true protagonist of the novel, since all other characters wander in and out of the story sporadically over the course of centuries, though most of the story takes place in the 20th Century, so our characters meet and interact now and then.  The book is divided into three parts, the first introduces pretty much all of the characters via slice of life chapters. These vignettes show us their lives in their particular time and place in The Boroughs. Some of the characters are mad and some are ghosts. Some are wistful in their reminisces and others are just trying to get by. There is a focus on how things change throughout the neighborhood, yet through their myriad stories we see how much has remained the same, such as street names and Doddridge Church with its curious door halfway up on side of the building. (Many characters wonder at this, but none offer an answer.) The second section, Mansoul, is a little more linear, detailing the events Michael Warren experiences when he was dead. (As a 3 year old, he choked on a cough drop, and was revived at hospital a few minutes later. It was a very long few minutes.) Here he meets a group of ghost children who call themselves the Dead Dead Gang. Like little grubby Virgils, they give Michael a tour of the afterlife. It’s important that he see all that he can because as an adult he will suffer a head injury that will cause him to remember bits of this excursion through Mansoul and he’ll relate it to his artist sister Alma who will create a huge exhibition based on his visions. In the final section of the book, we return to the slice of life model only they seem to all connect to the exhibition, mostly taking place the day before the show.

I feel like I’ll never fully understand the book even if I read it a dozen times. It’s so epic in scope and proportion and contains so much information that it’s a bit overwhelming. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. There were characters absolutely loved, like Freddy Allen and Black Charley. I enjoyed how Moore played with language, writing one chapter in verse and another in play format. It held my interest, certainly, though I took several breaks to read other things (gotta keep up with the book club, after all). I fully understand if the length of the book is a deterrent, but I still think it’s a good read. If you’re a fan of Alan Moore, this is worth checking out. If you’re interested in Northampton history, give it a shot.

 

Review by Jessica A.

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