Matt's Reviews > From Hell

From Hell by Alan Moore
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Apr 16, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: crime-mystery, epic, fiction, five-stars, history, philosophy, political, comic-book
Read in June, 2013

I don't really know how to review this book, but I feel I need to. First off, it's the first thing I've read since Salem's Lot at age 13 that gave me nightmares. They weren't specifically related to Jack the Ripper, but I can't honestly say the mindset I was in afterward didn't put me in a nightmare-mood.

The truth about this book is that the Ripper murders are almost tangential to the point of the work itself. The story, which is largely fictional though based on fact, is about the cover-up conspiracy to keep the true reason behind the Ripper murders from becoming public. It's not that it's true that matters, it's that it's possible. I realized, towards the end, that all of this probably didn't but easily COULD have happened, and that there were likely similar atrocities in our collective history that have not been as well-publicized as Jack the Ripper's reign of terror that were more effectively covered up.

The point isn't that conspiracy theories are TRUE, it's just that they are POSSIBLE, and are therefore probably inevitable. Do I fall for Freemason conspiracies? Eh, not so much. Alan Moore himself says that while it's possible to believe in individual conspiracies, it's really just a comfort blanket protecting us from the much more terrifying truth: that no one is in charge, that all is chaos.

And the fact that these structures, these authorities are so patently corruptible, so prone to delusion, so HUMAN, is something we rarely think of. They are not mechanical, and they do not have things "in control," either benevolently or nefariously, and that in itself is the most terrifying part of reality, that things may be run by people like us.

As far as the quality of the writing and art, it's impeccable. All black-and-white, all extremely stark and realistic, this does not present a single character as a flawless comic-book superhero, but rather, presents everyone as flawed or even normal, and thus presents the grittiness of late 19th Century London in an extremely realistic fashion. This deserves all the acclaim it gets. Get over your dislike or hesitance towards graphic novels (or, if you must, comic books) and read this.
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I re-read this in June of 2013, after I'd lived in Lilian Knowles House - formerly the Providence Row Night Refuge - for a year. This time I read the appendices along with each chapter, which gave me significantly more appreciation for this piece of work than I'd had before - which should say something, seeing as I gave it five stars at the time.

This is an incredible story, flawlessly executed. The research required to do it - into the history of London, the history of the Freemasonry, the psychology of murder, as well the personal histories of William Gull, Fred Abberline, the five victims, and virtually all of Victorian London - is staggering. And while it's clear he mainly draws on a few sources, some of which he admits as severely flawed, he's always honest enough to do so, and he painstakingly explains, page-by-page, what is factual, and what is invented. If you are not into graphic novels, read this. It's incredible.
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