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Jerusalem, Post 5

HRSFANS Book Club – read-a-LONG up to our Feb 2017 meeting: Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, “Book One—The Boroughs.”

Reminder: proposal is now that the official Book Club plan for February 6, 2017 meeting be to discuss Jerusalem‘s “Book One—The Boroughs”: the first third of the book.


This post has some plot spoilers.

It has more concept/perspective spoilers.


Last-for-now favorite quote

Laugh-out-loud from the first page of the chapter “Choking on a Tune,” perspective character Michael (Mick) (hey! a second chapter with the same perspective character! Whoa!):

Blinded and howling, this according to the subsequent colourful witness statements of fellow employees, Mick had charged round in a semicircle and, with all the slapstick timing of a radiation-scarred post-nuclear Harold Lloyd, had run head first into a bar of steel prtruding from the outsize scales on which the flattened drums were weighed. He’d knocked himself out cold, and looking back congratulated himself on the speed with which, in trying circumstances, he had improvised a painkiller that was both total and immediate in its effect. Hardly the actions of a stupid man, he’d smugly reassured himself after a day or two, by which time the worst bruises weren’t so bad.

Should’ve picked the middle?

I finished the first third of Jerusalem today. YAY! I read on and was surprised at how easily the second part started to move: the last chapter of “Book One—The Boroughs” and first chapter of “Book Two—Mansoul” follow much more directly from the moody and hinting-at-reasons “Prelude” than do any of the chapters before them. We get to start hearing more about Michael’s vision. In fact, it’s getting a lot like Black Elk Speaks around here: I feel like we might be about to learn his life’s mission, revealed to him in a vision in a fit as a small child. The timings are even quite comparable (Black Elk had a nine-day catatonic spell at the age of five, Michael Warren was at the age of three unconscious or dead for two weeks of his own subjective experience, though less than an hour from his family’s perspective).

Yes, I feel like all the multi-generational “friends and relatives” – oh, and ghosts – stuff earlier gave me a more thorough grounding in what the heck might be going on “Upstairs” than I would have had starting here, but it almost certainly would have felt more standard in a modern narrative way to give us the plot chapters (if plot this is) interwoven with background, rather than lay such deep literal foundations before attending to any construction we can see from ground level.

I guess this kind of gets back to Post 2 that though this book wasn’t written as if you were supposed to know all its parts already at any given point, it sometimes seems that way.

Another SF/F burst I’d forgotten to mention

From the same 4-page spread of “Do As You Darn Well Pleasey” that was suddenly FULL of tropes I recognized:

Vernalls, as their father had defined the term, were those responsible for tending to the boundaries and corners, to the edges and the gutters. Though a lowly place in the ethereal hierarchy it was a necessary one that carried its own numinous authority.

There’s a similar worker early in Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, a “lineman” who is much more secure in her post and sense of self than most of the characters in Jerusalem (and particularly than any of the Vernalls, with the possible exception of Thursa).

This will be very hard for you

Quote, from “Do As You Darn Well Pleasey,” perspective character Snowy:

“This will be very hard for you.”

He meant his child, his wife, himself, meant everyone who’d ever struggled from the womb to somewhere that was brighter, colder, dirtier and not so loving in its ways. This, THIS, this place, this eddy in the soup of history, this would be very hard for all of them. You didn’t need an angel to come down and tell you that.

Quote, from “The Breeze That Plucks Her Apron,” perspective character May:

Worse than this, she had started to suspect that life, all life that walked upon the earth, had never had a reason from the start. This was a world of accident and mess without a divine plan that guided things. It weren’t that God moved in mysterious ways, more that you never saw him move at all. What was the point of going on with it, the human race? Why did everyone keep having babies, when they knew they’d die? Giving them life then snatching it away, just so you’d have some company. It was cruel. How had she ever seen things differently?

There’s a folktale folded into the middle of Orson Scott Card’s Saints, regarding two traveling salesmen and the promise of happiness. I’ve got the book waiting for me at the local library and will be able to pick it up in a day or two to reread and be able to summarize it more carefully. For now, let’s just say that it involves a character who asks for advice on happiness getting a suspicious, angry look and a screed thrown back at her that I’m almost certain I remember including the promise, “It means watching your children die” — yet the tale is neither callous nor farcical.


Sanctity inhering in a PLACE

This is one of the first topics I’d thought of writing about when I started reading Jerusalem, and I’ve been studiously putting off writing about it, because it involves looking into Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and no matter what I read, Neil Gaiman and I are NEVER on the same page.

This evening I got the book out, frowned at it, and said, “This is a problem.”

My husband solicitously suggested I could put it back.

“I need to find the part about the House on the Rock,” I grumbled.

Google Books search failed me … and then I paged to it in our paperback in about 15 seconds. So, whew, much less painful than I’d expected.

Here goes:

“This is a roadside attraction,” said Wednesday. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”

“Come again?”

“It’s perfectly simple,” said Wednesday. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel , some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or churches, or erect stone circles, or … well, you get the idea.”

“There are churches all across the States, though,” said Shadow.

“In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA, people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a gigantic bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”

“You have some pretty whacked-out theories,” said Shadow.

“Nothing theoretical about it, young man,” said Wednesday. “You should have figured that out by now.”

So, back to “X Marks the Spot,” perspective character Peter:

If it were indeed a home of Christian worship, Peter knew it for a Christianity more old than his and come from the traditions of three hundred years before, when the forebears of Peter’s order had been forced to seek appeasement with the followers of peasant gods by mixing in Christ’s teaching with their rude and superstitious lore, preached from the mounds where shines to devils were once raised.

“X Marks the Spot” is, more importantly, the chapter where Peter is on a quest (returning from a pilgrimage) to plant a relic in the centre of his land. I don’t understand, and don’t remember him quite understanding, why this is important, but the world conspires to bring his task to its completion.

Reaching again to Snowy, in “Do As You Darn Well Pleasey” (this being, admittedly, one of the chapters NOT set in Northampton, but positing a close connection, tesseract-like, between there and Lambeth):

The Lambeth visionary [William Blake]’s notions of a fourfold and eternal city seemed at times so close to Snowy’s own view, right down to the exact number of its folds, that he had wondered if there were some quality in Lambeth that encouraged such perceptions. There may be, he’d often thought, some aspect of the district’s shape or placement when considered on more planes than three that made it most especially conducive to a certain attitude, to a unique perspective….

I really don’t know how to tie that all together. Maybe I’ll come up with some more before next week, but then again, clearly Moore plans to take his time about it all.

1 comment

1 Comment so far

  1. Robbie Eginton February 12th, 2017 9:01 pm

    CHAPTER-LEVEL SPOILERS FOR “ROUGH SLEEPERS,” STRONG THEMATIC SPOILERS

    Hey Lark, so. I’ve been reading through your read-a-longs today and I’ve been wanting to mention NEVERWHERE. Since you’re talking about AMERICAN GODS, this seems to be the right post to comment on. NEVERWHERE, in case you haven’t read it, is another Neil Gaiman book, in which a boring man with an office job stumbles into a mysterious netherworld where all the dregs of London’s history are still alive. Sort of. So, clearly relevant here. In particular, I was thinking about NEVERWHERE while reading “Rough Sleepers,” which I think is by far the most “yep, this is definitely a novel with the supernatural (and not just weirdly serendipitous insanity)” chapter. In Neverwhere, there’s the idea of London Underground (a play on The London Underground, the metro system there), or London Below versus London Above. People from London Above (mundane London) mostly can’t see, or notice, the denizens of London Below, which has its own fiefdoms and districts, its own noble families and alliances, some, but not all, literally below the city. (Some denizens of London Below live on the rooftops, for example, or in the alleys.) In Jerusalem, too, history is mapped along an axis that is technically not height (“depth” when seen from above) but feels a lot like it: there is justice above the street, and Freddy goes UP to watch the angel’s billiards game — but, also, he’s described as “digging” back in time to Georgie Bumble’s office. That said, Moore seems to be a little more circumspect about identifying time with height/depth; he thinks of time more as layers, which could be layers of paint on a vertical wall, or archaeological layers, as in Gaiman. Like in Gaiman’s novel, Moore’s supernatural denizens of the hidden Boroughs are strongly linked with the homeless — “rough sleepers” — and, before we understand that Freddy and some of his acquaintances are ghosts, we see the barmaid serving them in a pub but barely noticing them, which is a moment straight out of NEVERWHERE. “The barmaid moved that fast that she was like a blur, not paying them the least bit of attention. That was how it was for ones like him and Mary Jane, for the rough sleepers. People hardly knew you were there. They just looked through you.” This is, I understand, a thing that people living on the streets genuinely often experience, but it’s also applicable to ghosts.

    Anyway, what I wanted to say — and, if you haven’t read NEVERWHERE, this comparison probably works almost as well for AMERICAN GODS — Gaiman has a habit of conjuring up a deep past embedded in the present without, to my mind, a sense of the middle past through which it came. A very valid criticism has often been made in social justice circles that Gaiman somehow has Egyptian gods in AMERICAN GODS — but no Native American ones (if I remember aright). Gaiman’s past-related worldbuilding seems a little like that of Wicca, with its insistence on a direct line of tradition from the ancient to the contemporary (without fully explaining its passage through the Renaissance and the Modern) and its often somewhat-oversimplified-and-essentialized pantheons. Moore’s world seems overpoweringly and perhaps uncomfortably oriented towards a sort of abstracted or big-idea Christianity, as, probably, befits his source material. But he is certainly not guilty of skipping straight from the distant past to the immediate present for aesthetic effect. His thing seems to be continuity, all the way. And, similarly, I think Moore has much less of a tendency to aestheticize instead of investigating subjectivity. Which, frankly, is my biggest problem with Gaiman. This feels to me kind of like a grown-up NEVERWHERE, to be honest.

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