Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Alan Moore's novel Jerusalem contains the whole of existence within its pages





Jerusalem – Alan Moore (2016)

(1296 pages.  That is what arrived in my mailbox after sending a hand-written letter to Alan Moore’s publisher.  In the letter I explained that I love books and have written this here book review blog for over 2 years.  I proclaimed my love for Alan Moore’s previous work and my desire to read and review his upcoming opus, Jerusalem.  Receiving that galley copy in the mail a few weeks later was one of the coolest moments in my book-reading life!  My deepest thanks go to the good folks at Liveright Publishing Corporation for their support of my love of books.)
*****
Alan Moore has been one of the most inventive and complex authors of the last 30 years.  The fact that most of his work was done for the supposedly lowly medium of comic books changed nothing for me.  I love comics and Alan Moore’s have been some of the greatest I have ever had the pleasure to read.  V for Vendetta, From Hell, Promethea and especially Watchmen are to me some of the highlights of modern literature and I hope they will be seen that way in the future.  Moore’s work is always dense, instantly engrossing, and deeply thought-provoking.  When I read in the trades that he had been working on a full-on novel I was intrigued.  After receiving my review copy, I immersed myself in the world of Moore’s Jerusalem for these past two months. This is why I have not added any new reviews.  It was totally worth it!
How to describe the scope of Jerusalem?  First, let me explain the significance of the title.  Jerusalem is a holy city.  It is also a symbol for the “promised land” and for “heaven.”  William Blake, the mystic/poet/artist wrote of each one of us creating our own “Jerusalem” within us, allowing each human to experience the truly divine and to achieve peace for one’s soul.  Alan Moore, through his intensive esoteric studies, understands that the “lower classes” live lives so rife with brutality and despair that they are unable to share in the philosophies and world views held by those whose lives are softer, safer, and more stable.  Alan Moore’s aim with this book is to provide a mythology/philosophy for the world’s downtrodden, and all the while he tells an amazing story.
The skeleton that Moore’ hangs his story on is that of the Burroughs, a long-standing neighborhood of poor and working class Brits whose lives, like the lives of all those that live in historically impoverished and neglected areas, are extremely insular and desperate.  The novel jumps back and forth in time following the Vernall family, a family whose roots in the Burroughs go way back in history.  The Vernalls suffer a long history of mental illness in the family.  Many of their members, male and female, lose their marbles so to speak.  Because of this madness, they are also able to step out and above time and space, converse with angels and demons, see the future and the past, and otherwise experience things that those around them cannot.  I do not want to give anything away.  It is hard to discuss this book without doing so. 
At the same time as we hear the story of the Vernall family we are also introduced to dozens and dozens of peripheral characters, each a piece of the overall fabric that makes up the odd space-time continuum that the Burroughs exists in.  There are stories like that of a monk from the actual Jerusalem, who is sent to travel to the center of Britain over 400 years ago with a specific task to accomplish.   There is a tale of a son of slaves, who moved to the Burroughs in the late 1800’s to start a new life.  There is the story of a young boy, who dies and awakens to find himself in Mansoul, which is neither heaven nor hell, but instead is the dimension above our Earthly plane of existence where all of time exists simultaneously, and the friends he makes there.  There is the story of an eccentric artist, the sister of the young boy above, whose artworks describe the visions of Mansoul.  These are just the stories about the living people in the Burroughs.  Interspersed throughout are also stories of events that take place in Mansoul, of the angels who build existence and are in charge of the lives of every resident of the Burroughs, and who control their fate through what appears to be a giant game of billiards.   
The real main character of this novel is the Burroughs itself, a downtrodden neighborhood that Mr. Alan Moore himself grew up in, and which he describes in such intricate detail that it becomes a truly living thing.  Every single building, every tree, every paving stone has a million stories to tell, a million memories attached, from countless residents and their life experiences.  This is very much like any ghetto or slum or poor neighborhood.  There is no escape for the residents so they keep on building meaning and experience in the same places that their parents and their parents’ parents did.  Some places, like the Burroughs, have been involved in this process of isolationist stagnation for centuries, and it shows in the people that have to or choose to call these places home.
The only books I can compare to this one are the Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Jerusalem is like Illuminatus in that its purpose seems to be to rewire the thought patterns and reality tunnel of the reader, allowing the reader’s mind to expand and see the interconnectedness of all things as well as the absurdity of certainty of any kind.  Jerusalem is like Ulysses in that events of a single day are explored in near-infinite detail, letting the reader understand that at any given moment in time, there are an infinity of events occurring around them, an infinity of thoughts and feelings and decisions and crimes and good and evil.  Ulysses takes place in the city of Dublin.  Jerusalem takes place in the neighborhood of the Burroughs. Not only are different stories told but the method of delivering the stories changes too, never letting the reader become too comfortable.  Jerusalem switches point of view often, changes from prose to poetry, contains a chapter that is written out like a stage play, describes the internal mental state of an “insane” woman in a chapter that is near-Joycean in its phonetic creativity (It is best read aloud), and hops back and forth in time regularly.  Jerusalem is a complex masterwork, and I understand why Alan Moore took ten years to write it.
One of the greatest ideas in the book is that of the repeated nature of existence.  Some cultures believe in reincarnation, whereby one soul hops from organism to organism, on its way to the complete absolution of self which they call nirvana.  Jerusalem posits that we do reincarnate if we want to, but that each of us lives the same life over and over and over and over.  We make the same mistakes.  We experience the same joys.  We sometimes feel déjà vu because we get a feeling we have experienced this moment before.  While this idea seems to place a limit on free will, it is perfectly fitting to a world where the same problems, hardships, and fears plague generation after generation with no end in sight.  Upon death, our soul goes to the dimension above ours, Mansoul as it is called.  Some people are too attached to living and are unable to make it to Mansoul, instead spending eternity reliving their time on Earth as grey, lifeless shades, forever looping around, revisiting moments in their life, and being ignored by the living around them.  The way that Alan Moore describes all of this is so cool, and builds so carefully, that I do it a disservice with my description here.  It really needs to be read to be appreciated.
The hard part of reading this novel is that Alan Moore also describes the horrors and traumas experienced by the residents of the Burroughs.  They are the horrors of anyone living an impoverished and hopeless life.  Drug addiction, alcoholism, sexual abuse, violence, infidelity, joblessness, treachery, and plain old EVIL are constant residents of the Burroughs too, as they are in all poor areas.  The suffering of the disadvantaged human never changes.  It is the same pains that they have felt for generations.  It will be felt by those to come.  It is important to know this, to know that people are shaped by their circumstances far more than we wish to believe.  Modern humans have a delusion of free will, believing that anyone anywhere can improve their lot by proper decisions and hard work.  Only someone who grew up comfortable, able to indulge their individuality without fearing daily for their well-being, and able to take meals and education and opportunity for granted can be so carefree.  The poor of the world do not share this.  They suffer from birth to death, and even small victories such as graduating from High School, or getting a decent job become tragedies far more regularly than not.  Alan Moore understands this and is able to show the innate dignity of life in spite of the horrors that surround it.
          I read mostly non-fiction books.  If you see the list of reviews you will notice this.  There are a few novels and other such works of fiction included but the majority is not fiction.  Fiction takes longer for me to read by its very nature.  Non-fiction works have to be written in as clear a language as possible, because their aim is to pass on information.  It does not do to obscure the information by the use of literary language.  Fiction is the opposite.  It truly wants to transport the reader to a fully imagined world, and the actual syntax and writing style can change to suit the author’s desires and goals.  Alan Moore has achieved this.  I really hope more people take the time to read this book.  Even if it takes a year, it is worth it.  I know I will be thinking about the people and ideas found within Jerusalem for the rest of my life. 

(This book can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Jerusalem-Alan-Moore/dp/1631491342 )

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