Written by Alan Moore
Narrated by Simon Vance
2016 | 60 hours, 41 minutes | 600,000 words
Winner, 2017 APA Audie Awards – Best Male Narrator
Fierce in its imagining and stupefying in its scope, Jerusalem is the tale of everything, told from a vanished gutter.
In the epic novel Jerusalem, Alan Moore channels both the ecstatic visions of William Blake and the theoretical physics of Albert Einstein through the hardscrabble streets and alleys of his hometown of Northampton, UK. In the half a square mile of decay and demolition that was England’s Saxon capital, eternity is loitering between the firetrap housing projects. Embedded in the grubby amber of the district’s narrative, among its saints, kings, prostitutes, and derelicts, a different kind of human time is happening, a soiled simultaneity that does not differentiate between the petrol-colored puddles and the fractured dreams of those who navigate them.
Employing a kaleidoscope of literary forms and styles that range from brutal social realism to extravagant children’s fantasy, from modern stage drama to the extremes of science fiction, Jerusalem‘s dizzyingly rich cast of characters includes the living, the dead, the celestial, and the infernal in an intricately woven tapestry that presents a vision of an absolute and timeless human reality in all of its exquisite, comical, and heartbreaking splendor.
In these minutes lurk demons from the second-century Book of Tobit and angels with golden blood who reduce fate to a snooker tournament. Vagrants, prostitutes, and ghosts rub shoulders with Oliver Cromwell; Samuel Beckett; James Joyce’s tragic daughter, Lucia; and Buffalo Bill, among many others. There is a conversation in the thunderstruck dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, childbirth on the cobblestones of Lambeth Walk, an estranged couple sitting all night on the cold steps of a Gothic church front, and an infant choking on a cough drop for 11 chapters. An art exhibition is in preparation, and above the world a naked old man and a beautiful dead baby race along the Attics of the Breath toward the heat death of the universe.
An opulent mythology for those without a pot to piss in, through the labyrinthine streets and minutes of Jerusalem tread ghosts that sing of wealth, poverty, and our threadbare millennium. They discuss English as a visionary language from John Bunyan to James Joyce, hold forth on the illusion of mortality post-Einstein, and insist upon the meanest slum as Blake’s eternal holy city.
This story is as crowded and convoluted as that summary makes it sound. And my thoughts on it… well, it’s a mixed-bag of brilliant and baffling storytelling. I was frustrated throughout and continually wondered what the story was… right up until the end. I’m still wondering that.
The narration of Simon Vance is top-notch and will pull you through this monster, despite the fact that you’re going to get lost multiple times throughout. The vision that is the creation of this story is mind-numbing, not just for its size and scope, but for its audacity. The sheer “what the hell are you talking about” nature that pervades the whole thing. There is a story here that runs throughout the novel, but it doesn’t really have a beginning or an end, and is chopped up so finely that it can be easily lost or missed entirely. I’ve seen a ton of 5-star reviews of this thing and maybe it deserves them. But having listened to the whole thing, i don’t know. Seriously, I don’t know. I wouldn’t, and won’t, give it 5-stars for that reason alone. Maybe this is a masterpiece that I’m just not quite getting. Or maybe, it seems just as likely that this is a self-indulgent, masturbatory piece of over-written and under edited author spunk. I think it’s somewhere between the two points, but has places where either description would apply.
I made it through the whole thing. I enjoyed large parts of it. There were sections I didn’t understand and parts that I didn’t think we’re necessary. As a whole I found it unsatisfying. In bits and pieces I thought it was really interesting and well done. I’m glad that I listen to it, but I imagine I will never revisit it. In my audible review, I gave the narration 5-stars (because it was great) and the story 3-stars (because it wandered all over the place and seemed unfocused), you might think that results in a 4-star review. You’d be wrong.