HRSFANS Book Club – read-a-LONG up to our Feb 2017 meeting: Alan Moore’s Jerusalem.
This post has GUARANTEED 0, ABSOLUTELY NONE plot spoilers.
It has ridiculously hand-wavingly vague, I wouldn’t count it but maybe Kevin would concept/perspective spoilers.
NEW PROPOSAL for shorter version of the read
I propose 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. (Of course, if you don’t manage all of that, it’s also still fine to come! Book Club realized long ago that we can have good Book Club meetings whether or not people liked the book, and I think this also counts for whether or not people have finished the book!)
This book is long and dense enough that, considering other commitments, I’d have a lot of trouble finishing it by a month from now. The few people I’ve talked to who are also reading it are not yet so far along as me. So perhaps realism is the better part of valor.
“Book One” alone will presumably leave us hanging as to the main plot, but, seriously, this is not a plot-driven book. Let me say that again: this is a seriously not plot-driven book. It’s like Citizen Kane, which is less a story than a character study. Jerusalem is less a story than an set of character studies, linked to add up to a portrait of a place and a way of life.
Like the density of the writing, this may make Jerusalem pretty annoying for people who like their novels comprehensible. (Though I hope some of these people will try it out, then come to complain, anyhow: see above—Book Club is good with or without love of the book!) Also, it’ll mean we get more than usual chance to speculate on what the heck is supposed to be going on in general.
My husband’s told me that I’m really not making this book sound inviting in these posts. Well, what can I say? I was surprised that more people showed interest in reading Jerusalem: I had suggested it because I wanted the support of more readers for a task that was looking kind of daunting to me. I agreed to write about the reading experience—and that feels daunting, too—as a sort of giving back to those people who are also reading.
So thank you for reading this, and thank you for reading Jerusalem. And please come to HRSFANS Book Club meeting February 6, 2017, to help us all.
Is it SF/F?
Is Jerusalem a work of science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction?
Books that seem on the borders of genre, or beyond it, come up every now and then at Book Club, like River of No Return and Mr. Penumbra’s Twenty-Four Hour Bookstore. (In the former case, the overall consensus was “maybe,” in the latter “no.”) I say science fiction uses technology as a vehicle for exploring aspects of humanity: “Given people being people, what about if …” I’m not sure what I’d use as a definition for fantasy: probably something similar, but using some set of outside-lived-experience-realistic tropes rather than using technology. I very much welcome better definitions in comments.
So I’d say Jerusalem is not SF/F. There’s some things going on that are outside of what we can experience in average everyday life, but those aren’t being used to advance a plot or an argument or an understanding, so far as I can see.
Preserve a fragment of the life
Quotes, from “Atlantis,” perspective character Benedict:
On recently refurbished crab-paste brickwork were the words or possibly single word NEWLIFE, a sideways silver logo, more a label for a mobile phone or for an everlasting battery than for a tower [apartment] block, he’d have thought. Benedict winced, attempting not to look at it. For the most part, he found it comforting to still reside in the beloved neighbourhood, except for those occasions when you noticed that the loved one had been dead for thirty years and was now decomposing. Then you felt a bit like someone form an item out of Fortean Times, one of those lovelorn and demented widowers still plumping up the pillows for a bride who’s long since mummified. Newlife: urban regeneration that the’d had to literally spell out because of its conspicuous absence otherwise. As if just bolting up the mirror-finish letters made it so. What had been wrong with all the old life, anyway?
He’d always felt that he could talk to Lily, although looking back it pained him to admit that most of what he’d talked was drunken rubbish. That was largely what had finished it between the two of them. It was the drink and, if he were entirely honest, it was Ben’s insistence that the rules in his relationship with Lily be those that had suited his own parents, Jem and Eileen, thirty years before, particularly those that suited Jem. Back then Ben hadn’t really taken in that everything was changing, not just streets and neighborhoods but people’s attitudes; what people would put up with. He’d though that at least in his own home he could preserve a fragment of the life he’d known right here in Freeschool Street, where wives would tolerate constant inebriation in their husbands and consider themselves blessed if they’d a man who didn’t hit them. He’d pretended that the world was still that way, and he’d been stunned right to the core of him when Lily took the kids and demonstrated that it wasn’t.
About that place and that way of life, which it seems Jerusalem is designed to evoke: they’re in bad shape. They’ve been in bad shape for some time: by some counts, they’ve been declining for centuries. I don’t know whether Northampton is a known place to Englishmen and Englishwomen. There’s reference in the text to it not being known, rather unaccountably so, and quite unlike how a similar place would be talked up in America. Which leads me to: both my parents grew up in Flint, Michigan. I’ve never lived there, but the city’s always still been my family’s center of gravity, and I’ve heard all my life about the pain from the city’s decline, witnessed from inside and out.
There is something living about the innumerable people, resources, animals, ideas, ambitions, projects, and so forth that converge, then weave and dance and brawl, to create a city, and the livingness of a city can resemble a lifeform in ways more than just metaphorical (if I’m remembering correctly from Steven Johnson‘s Where Good Ideas Come From, the same back-of-a-napkin formula for the total length of veins in a human can also be used to estimate the total length of water pipes in a city — and by the way, if I’m remembering correctly, Johnson explains why that isn’t as trivial as it sounds). So there is something tragic about the death of a city, as for a person.
And there is also something tragic about a person who has the lifestyle he was led to expect ripped away from him by the arc of history. Do I think it would be good for anyone if more modern marriages conformed to that of Benedict’s parents? No. But I don’t blame Benedict for thinking what he grew up with was normal, or for assuming that what he’d seen growing up would suit him. (McNorris opening Boomtown Season 2 episode 2 is an amazing exposition of this.)
There are a lot of angry people in my country now. Some of them are angry and frightened, and very sad, because they feel like their lifestyle has been taken away over the past several decades, or because they fear a sudden apparent change in society’s course will lead to their lifestyle being taken away over the next several decades. They’re in pain. Whether or not the pain, or the changes that precipitate it, could be or should be avoided, it’s worth acknowledging people are scared and hurting, for reasons including (if certainly not limited to) that you should expect them to lash out.
And this year Britain’s been through its own unexpected change in course, in large part due to similar fear and anger.