Au­thor James Love­grove on tak­ing on alan moore’s beast of a novel

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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.

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

Day 3

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?”

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