The most read adult book reviews of 2016
Alan Moore. Liveright, $35 (1280p) ISBN 978-1-63149-134-4
Reviewed by Heidi MacDonald
In this wildly imaginative second novel, Moore (Watchmen) brings together all of his ruminations about space, time, life and death into one massive, interconnected narrative that spans all of human existence on the streets of his native Northampton, UK. -United. ideas are not an activity; it’s an experience.
The book is divided into three parts, each of 11 chapters, with a prelude and an “afterlude”. The bookends involve Alma Warren and her brother, Mick, who as a child choked on a cough drop and died, only to be resurrected; their investigations into the mysteries of death provide a faint glimmer of intrigue. The first section meanders through Northampton with startling chapters that feature sad ghosts drifting around the town, having sex with each other, and foraging for food in the form of strange plants known as Puck Hats. Living characters include Ern Vernall, who survives a sanity-ending encounter with a talking paint while trapped on scaffolding, and Alma and Mick’s grandmother May, who mourns the death of his too-beautiful daughter and becomes a “merchant of death”, overseeing the local funeral. and births. The second section takes place entirely between Mick’s death and his rebirth, with a long adventure in an afterlife that only Moore could have imagined. The third and most difficult part is written in a series of literary pastiches, including a Beckett-like play and an entire chapter written in a language invented by Lucia Joyce, the institutionalized daughter of James Joyce.
Throughout, Moore brings up the specter of Joyce Dubliners, with dense paragraphs that enter the minds of all the characters as they walk around the city. Some are startlingly aware of their location in Moore’s four-dimensional reality (Snowy Vernall, who experiences life as a constant state of deja vu) and some are painfully mired in a sordid present (mediocre middle-aged poet Benedict Perrit, who lives with his mother and finds inspiration only in the bottle).
Moore’s love of allusions, both historical and literary, leads him to create a network of references that can inspire attentive readers – and not just future dissertation writers who will find this a goldmine – to read with a highlighter in hand. It’s a challenge, and a deliberate one, but daring readers who answer the call will be rewarded with unparalleled writing that soars, cools, wallows, and ultimately describes a new cosmology. Challenges and all, Jerusalem secures Moore’s place as one of the great masters of the English language.