Author James Lovegrove on taking on alan moore’s beast of a novel
James Lovegrove chronicles a mammoth task involving Alan Moore’s new doorstopper.
It sits beside my reading chair: an enormous slab of ring-bound A4. It is like a paper version of the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. As with that alien artefact, it promises knowledge, advancement, revelation. Yet it is forbidding too. Daunting. It is a photocopied proof of Alan Moore’s forthcoming second novel Jerusalem. The finished book runs to just shy of 1,200 pages, roughly 600,000 words, so the publicity material says. And I have volunteered to write a 750-word review of it for the Financial Times. As that newspaper’s tame science fictioneer, and someone who has read and loved practically everything Moore has ever written, I am unquestionably the man for the job. All the same, looking at the book in front of me, with its single-spaced, thickly-paragraphed text, its sheer gravity-warping mass, I am apprehensive. I have budgeted three days to complete the task. Approximately 400 pages per day. Is it enough? Here goes. Wish me luck.
There are no page numbers. That’s my first thought. This appears to be a typescript, looking much like the sheets that would have churned forth from Moore’s printer, and someone has not paginated it. How can I know when today’s target of 400 has been reached?
I can’t, so I halt at a chapter break roughly a third of the way in. I use a ruler to judge my progress, 2cm out of 6. Reading calculated by depth.
So far, the narrative has hopped through time, from one viewpoint character to another, anchoring itself in the geography of a single place, its author’s native Northampton. I’m not conscious yet of an overarching plot. Maybe there isn’t one.
Goal achieved. Time for a nice slice of fruitcake, my usual post-work tipple. The rock ’n’ roll lifestyle of a middle-aged author.
Come on, James. You’ve read other very long books: Dickens, Moby-Dick, House Of Leaves, The Stand. Twice. You can do this. I remind myself that one of the joys of reviewing professionally is getting paid for an occupation I normally do for fun. I would have read Jerusalem regardless. Money for writing about it is a bonus. Mustn’t grumble.
Slice of fruitcake? Don’t mind if I do. A tasty reward for the day’s labours.
Final push. Usually I’d savour a book like this, relish it like a gourmet meal, taking time over the courses. But there are deadlines. When Business and Pleasure intertwine, the former always comes first, leaving the latter ravished, dishevelled, and feeling vaguely dissatisfied and a little bit ashamed.
Jerusalem strikes me as obsessive, personal, Moore’s largest and most intense artistic statement yet, a sprawling piece of psychogeography that makes the parochial universal and the temporary eternal. I am glad to have read it. I have taken copious notes. I am ready to produce my 750 words on it. I am also boggle-eyed and somewhat mind-blown.
Fruitcake? Well, after immersing myself in Moore’s polymathic, encyclopaedic genius for three days solid, that word is beginning to take on a different meaning. But if we’re talking the raisin-studded teatime treat… I reckon I’ve earned it.
James Lovegrove’s Age Of Heroes is out now from Solaris and reviewed on p109.
“i have budgeted three days to complete the task. is it enough?”