i’ve found it impossible not to draw comparisons between Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire and Iain Sinclair’s Slow Chocolate Autopsy. published around the same time, Autopsy’s premise bares similarities to that of Voice, both being, in a way, ‘geographical biographies’: Autopsy is the biography of London as told from the perspective of her literal prisoner, Norton; Voice tells the story of Moore’s home of Northampton.
(there, however, it may be necessary to point out, the similarities end, for Moore, if any of the previous reviews that have been written on the work are to be believed, has a deeper intention, using Northampton’s ‘biography’ as structural framework to underpin musings on the principles and concept of ‘magic’.)
on the surface, perhaps, and comparing the first few pages of the two books, one might think that Sinclair’s writing is superior. Sinclair’s words are beautifully chosen, and the sentences and phrases clamber over each other as though to outdo each other in cleverness. by comparison, Moore’s nameless narrator in the opening story of Voice, 'Hob’s Hog', has a harshly limited vocabulary, and is written in a painfully reductive voice, being, for one thing, confined to the present tense and, for another, lacking all but the most basic forms of pronouns (he, she and I) -- there are almost certainly other grammatical and otherwise-structural limitations that i am unable to identify. furthermore, language to Moore's narrator is painfully literal, and so is the world in his mind, such that he is unable to grasp the concept of symbols, and therefore distinguish between ‘truth’ and ‘metaphor’, ‘objective’ and ‘perceived’ reality: dreams and memories and illusions and hallucinations are muddled in with his own physical experiences.
and yet, Hog’s narrator, it seems, has a better grasp of rhythm than Sinclair’s Norton: Norton’s sentences and phrases jar against each other, such that one is tempted to tear apart his fragmented narration and frame each sequence of words as a separate entity. the style has made Autopsy, in my mind, at least, virtually unreadable as a single coherent text. (reading it in bits and pieces, however, is another matter entirely.)
'Hob’s Hog', on the other hand, i find nearly impossible to put down, but for the fatigue that eventually wins out from the difficulty of comprehension. i recall an earlier review, that compared reading 'Hog' to the first time one reads Shakespeare as a child: the words are familiar, but are constructed in a way that makes it difficult for an inexperienced reader to comprehend, and while the words flow beautifully, virtually singing in the mind’s ear, one may find oneself hindered by the incomprehensibility of the strings of words, such that i, personally, occasionally find myself having enjoyed an entire page of text without necessarily having understood what has been said, and therefore having to retrace my footsteps to the last landmark of comprehension, and read it all again.
Neil Gaiman, in his introduction, compared Voice of the Fire to a circle, quoting Alan Moore quoting Charles Fort: you can start at any point in the narrative and proceed to ‘measure the circle’ from there. i’ve only started reading the book and could, of course, therefore be wrong; however, if other reviewers’ readings of Mr Moore’s intentions are to be believed, i find that the beginning of the book is, in fact, the best place to start.
from the first few pages alone, i’ve already begun to ‘glean’ what Mr Moore has to say about language and magic, and if i’m on the right track, there can be no better introduction to the ideas behind the Voice of the Fire than 'Hob’s Hog'.