Jerusalem by Alan Moore
It took me ten days to read.
60 hours for an audiobook. Nearly 1300 pages.
Still, it took me ten days to read this. I'm shocked.
I'm also quite amazed at the brilliance of this book.
I'm thinking of also getting a bound copy of this book to open up at random whenever I want my mind blown and just stick my finger in it and osmose the hell out of it. It's that kind of dense, crazy book.
The only book that comes close to it is Infinite Jest, and I like Jerusalem a hell of a lot more. It has an enormous sharp cast of misfits, crazies, poets, junkies, whores, and dead kids... but wait! It also has the builders of reality, demons, nagas, and a little corner of Northampton called the Burroughs that is the nexus of all freaking reality and all the dead can travel up the street to the future or back down the street to the past and have a blast.
Seriously, the first load of the novel had me wondering if I was just reading a literary fiction like Infinite Jest with a ton of outcasts and thankfully interesting normals as they screwed, did drugs, or whatnot. All the while, I learned more and more and more about this little 'burb, it's history... sooooo much history... and then we started getting characters out of our modern setting in full glorious detail and imagining. The history is starting to get applied, practically. But still, I'm not totally impressed. After all, I came at this knowing that Moore can blow my mind as with the later volumes of Swamp Thing and V for Vendetta and Watchmen. I wanted SF or Fantasy or both.
And then a funny thing happened deep into the text.
A little kid choked on a cough drop for 11 freaking chapters.
WTF? Right? Realize something here: this is an author who grew up on all the greats of literature, and I see a ton of James Joyce right here. In fact, James Joyce shows up here. So does Samuel Beckett, Thomas Beckett, Cromwell, and even William Blake! :) Tons of poets and writers who are dead, along with this little kid, show up and travel all space and time. Mostly it's just the Dead Dead Gang, a group of 7 year olds who pit themselves against eternal demons and save the newly-dead kid from a deal with a really big-deal devil, take him under their wing, and travel up and down the streets of afterlife Burroughs where we REALLY get a taste of all that history that Moore has been giving us.
Pretty awesomely, in fact. :)
And then the "normal" characters keep poking their heads in on us in strange and unusual ways as we see below the fabric of reality and see in the fourth dimension and get the idea that "crazy" on our side is really just "saint" on the other. Things get really strange in a big way.
And even crack whores can be "Innocent" and "pivotal" in the salvation of the universe. :) Which hangs on a billard game being waged by the Builders, the angels and demons in this very *differently* imagined afterlife/4th dimensional landscape that's in so many ways so much better than Christopher Priest's The Inverted World and a hell of a lot more interesting and vivid, too. After all, we get to go 3 billion years in the future with a beautiful dead baby on a man's back to see the death of stars, too. :)
But the really big question that gets raised in this tome is the nature of predestination. Is everything set in stone? It's one hell of a clunker of a theme, and we get everything from crack whores to tons of poets to dead children to angels and demons asking this same question. And if the crux of the universe is this run-down barrow of a shithole and the second coming of christ is a 3-year-old who reaches brain-death before miraculously coming back to lead a normal life, we have to ask ourselves a lot of deep questions that's not strictly religious in nature.
And the language? Oh my god. Alan Moore writes a huge tract of poetry here. Think pre-dictionary middle-English poetry firmly ensconced in modern day sex scenes, science, and art, written floridly and gorgeously even when we're talking about flying sperm. It's not for the faint of heart, but it is certainly cray-cray and ambitious and we as readers can't take ANYTHING for granted. Are these characters simply well-drawn vehicles for an enormous showdown between the builders of the universe? Or is this also a subtle and not-so-subtle satire on literature, too? Both, I think.
I know one thing for sure. It's an amazing feat of literature. It's not easy and it's not meant to be, either, but it flows and everything is drawn to amazing limits and it's DEFINITELY NOT NORMAL. You want a challenge? You want ENORMOUS traditional literature, poetry, religious thinking, epic space/time travels, ghosts, historical persons, gritty neo-realism, and a major discourse on WHAT IS ART? Look no further. :)
Let's say we could write a book on this book. Or perhaps, someday, there will be whole courses on this massive tome like there is for James Joyce's Ulysses. You can plumb these depths for years and still find hidden gems. I'm certain of it. One read is definitely not enough. And if you publish your dissertation on his novel and get your PHD on his coattails, then congratulations! :)
I can totally understand if it daunts most people. I'm also intimidated. And I actually KNOW most of the artists and *some* of the history. And yet, I remain DAUNTED, too. :)
But it's so worth it. :)
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