Reviews of Books You’ve Never Heard of: Voice of the Fire

What’s this, then?:  Voice of the Fire is Alan Moore’s first (and as far as I know only) foray into prose fiction.  For those of you who don’t know, Moore is the comics wizard (literally) behind Watchmen, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and  V for Vendetta, to name just his best-known works.  Voice of the Fire claims right on its cover to be a novel, but that’s only true if you accept Moore’s chaotic-fractal vision of time.  This is a collection of short stories taking place in the are which will come to be Moore’s hometown of Northampton, England throughout time.  The first story is about a bronze-age man and the last is about Moore himself.  In between there are chapters about Knights Templar, witches burned at the stake and John Dee, among others.  How does it claim to be a novel?  The characters in each story are supposed to be iterations or echoes of each other through time.  The witches, John Dee, and Alan Moore are all the Shaman from the Bronze age tale.  Of course they become very different over time as any good characters do.  You might also say that Northampton is the protagonist of this novel.  They way certain slang phrases appear early on and shift over time gives us a sense that the language and culture of Northampton is a dynamic character.  Readily identifiable as the same but changing slightly.  A man’s erect penis is referred to as his “will” in some of the earliest stories.  This becomes a man’s “willy” in our own time.  All the stories are set around late October and early November and so Moore seems to suggest that Guy Fawkes day is not so different from the Samhain bonfires of pagan Britain. All this really fleshes out Moore’s theory of how little things reverberate bigger and bigger through history as seen in From Hell and to a lesser extent Watchmen.

Well, s’it any good?:  It has its charms.  Writing the above description, I found myself falling in love with the book again.  If you’re really into Alan Moore, this book is a great look inside his head.  None of the stories really wowed me, though, on their own.  They’re good but not really spectacular.  It’s really only in the way the stories play off of each other that the book is interesting, which, I guess makes it a neat little experimental novel.  I would reccomend it if you 1) are a diehard Alan Moore fan, 2) really want to read a collection of stories about Northampton, 3) really want to read a book about the pagan/occult history of Britain (witches and Templars and John Dee and all that).  Otherwise it remains a curiosity.

What’s the best bit? :  Probably the chapter about Alan Moore.  It seems really self indulgent to end a book with a section where you’re the protagonist, but Alan kind of slips into the background.  Instead he tells us all about what it’s like to live in Northampton.  He describes the crime and the overpopulation and the homelessness of that city with the poetry of the harboiled writers of the early Twentieth Centruy.  He describes a murder investigation on the news where the victim’s head was missing until it was found by a black dog — beheadings and black dogs being two of the motifs that play out throughout various stories — hinting that the mythic past is still acting on the present.  Or is Moore admitting that he chose the elements of that mythic past based on his present only to suggest through all the stories that Northampton is important, is worth thinking about?  That’s it, of course, but the sly old wizard would never let on.

Anything else:  I really didn’t like the production of this book — so much so I’m talking about it here.  Top Shelf publishing obviously spared no expense and used glossy paper and a very sturdy stock for the cover.  Unfortunately this makes it a feat of strength and will to hold the book open to read it.  I think the book’s available for Kindle, where you’ll lose out on some color photographs, but you’ll save some hassle.

Published in: on September 1, 2011 at 1:45 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. i like the idea of finding books that mostly no one has heard of and reviewing them. Nice.

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