erasing clouds

Book Review: Alan Moore, Voice of The Fire

by anna battista

How do you measure a circle? Where do you start? One measures a circle starting anywhere, author Alan Moore suggests quoting Charles Fort in his graphic novel From Hell. But what if the circle in question is made of different stories, from different periods of time, all with different characters as main protagonists? Where would you start reading such a story? The answer is simple, it's again 'anywhere'. This is what the mighty Neil Gaiman advices the reader to do in the introduction to Alan Moore's novel Voice of the Fire.

The novel, divided in twelve chapters, is basically the story of Northampton, England, where Moore lives, starting in 4000 BC, when a cave boy loses his mother and learns in a short time what life is all about. A strange carousel of characters follows: a murderess, a fisherman, a Roman emissary, a crippled nun, a crusader, two witches, a judge and a salesman among the others. Their stories are deeply connected with the geography of the place where their lives take place. There's always a scary atmosphere hanging all over the book and often the stories of the various bizarre characters are abruptly interrupted, only to be solved and explained in the last chapter, when Moore goes through the narration again, separating legend and reality and drawing with his words a map of the modern Northampton, so far from its past, yet so linked to it.

The merit of the novel is undoubtedly in the style which varies in each chapter: from the broken and incomprehensible language of the cave boy, we pass to the stream of consciousness of a severed head and to the mystic language of a visionary nun. All the chapters are accompanied by often uncanny illustrations courtesy of Josť Villarrubia, who's previously collaborated with Moore in other projects (see the series Promethea and the epic poem The Mirror of Love).

Moore himself defines the story towards the end of the book as "a bridge, a crossing-point, a worn spot in the curtain between our world and the underworld, between the mortar and the myth, fact and fiction, a threadbare gauze no thicker than a page. It's about the powerful glossolalia of witches and their magical revision of the texts we live in." Go on then, you can now choose where to start reading this magic circle of stories, just remember, they're not for the faint-hearted.

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Issue 23, May 2004

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