Book #36: Voice of the Fire

There are writers you read for nothing but plot.  There are writers you read for nothing but language.  And there are writers you read for the Big Idea, the High Concept.  Every once in a while a writer may happen to migrate from one to the other, and in rarer instances, place firm footing on two at once.  But it's a rare instance that a writer, consistently, can manage the contortions to land on all three colors of the Twister mat timer and time again.

Case in point: Alan Moore.

Even if you take away his (arguably) greatest accomplishment Watchmen, you still have a body of work that is fearless in its reach and execution.  Even if you're not someone familiar with comics and Moore's place in that world, I would be hard pressed to think of another creator - especially in the field of comics - who has has their work adapted for the screen more:  V for VendettaFrom HellThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  And though he's not technically the creator, Moore's widely acknowledged as the writer who breathed life into Swamp Thing.  And though we shudder (for the most part) at the film adaptations, the work itself is still intact, and still endures. 

Was a novel inevitable?  I don't know, and it's actually hard to classify Voice of the Fire as a novel.  It's certainly Moore's first foray into substantial prose fiction, and if you're a fan of his work it really goes out if its way to root itself in all three of the embodiments mentioned above - plot, language, and concept.  Voice of the Fire is a reckoning of Northampton, England over the course of 6,000 years, using a series of interconnected short narrative episodes (I hesitate to call them "short stories") to cover a wide range of topics including magic, identity - both individual and geographic, betrayal, ritual, and morality.  Motifs and symbols - both vague and explicit - carry over from episode to episode.  The first episode takes place roughly around 4,000 B.C. and uses a unique language similar in both style and execution to Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban and, to a lesser extent, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.  Here we get the first of many recurring symbols - the Hob Man, the shagfoals, the mark of murder and the mark of betrayal.  Later stories incorporate severed heads, a man dressed as a giant bird, and the use of magic in many different incarnations.  The final arc, taking place on 1995 and featuring Moore, wraps the entire book back upon itself, the image of the serpent eating itself for eternity acknowledging, to me at least, not so much a single story going on forever but one that is destined to return time and again to the beginning.

Final words:  It's definitely quintessential Alan Moore, and if you're a fan of his writing you'll love this.  Take your time getting pst the first chapter (the introduction by Neil Gaiman in my edition helped move things along) and the rest rushes past in a flurry of wind and water.