This is a beast of a book, beautifully tight despite suggesting multiple interpretations and readings of the Jack the Ripper murders. Everything about this graphic novel teems with an overflow of possible meaning. That makes it simply delightful to read.
I don’t know a lot about the Ripper murders or Masonry and From Hell’s exploration of both gives London itself a new shape. Darkness and chaos are cut against providence and godliness. Visions war with the tried and tested hierarchies of society. Victorian culture, the peak of British Empire is riddled with the signs of its own demise. We see the chasm between rich and poor, the exploitation of difference and poverty for the sake of the rich that we have been unable to escape from even in the twenty-first century. It’s dirty and ugly and sad and also beautiful and filled with longing and hope.
It is very hard to know how to review this book without going away and writing a thesis. Suffice to say it is a visual and verbal delight. The language is elegant, sharp and replete with meaning. The dialogue is rich in the vernacular of the different strata of society. The overall narrative is cut with the brilliance of a jewel, its multiple facets clean and shiny. The illustrations make use of multiple visual techniques that enhance our interpretation of the story and bring to life the streets of London and the unknown visions of others minds, in a black and white that gives us anything but its metaphorical meaning, casting shades across all easy readings of the work.
I’m very pleased I’ve read this novel and wish I had the skills to create something so rich and powerful. If you haven’t read it, I thoroughly recommend it.
I was inspired to read From Hell by the wonderful Heidi James who was talking about it on her podcast, First Graft. If you haven’t listened to First Graft, it’s all about writing the first draft of her novel, The Sound Mirror, and includes extracts and interviews with other writers about their process. Do give it a go. It’s great for writers thinking about their craft as well as readers keen to get insight into the process.
I’ll be reading Doggerland by Ben Smith next.