Author: Alan Moore
Description: Before I wrote this review I had just read this 100 page 1991 book twice, last night, and again today. Between readings I skimmed some reviews, to see why it had such a low rating. Because I was intrigued by the book, what Moore and Zarate were trying to do with it, and it seemed like a kind of departure for Moore in some ways. I read this because I like Alan Moore, in all his complicated and sometime infuriating glory and weirdness and verbosity. But you know, the guy that wrote Watchmen and From Hell, you gotta take a second look, especially since when he was asked what were his favorite under-appreciated books, he listed this first and foremost. Obscure choice? Maybe.
But I liked it. I didn’t much like at first Oscar Zarate’s 80’s kooky too-colorful art and thought it was disruptive and infuriating, especially the overwhelming crowd scenes that also bugged other readers. Made it tough to read. Disjointed. But one review set me down a useful path, I think. He said it was a masterpiece that was highly influenced by some narrative choices in Nabokov’s Lolita, which I had read fairly recently, and I saw that he was riffing off Nabokov. I noticed throughout all the Lolita references, and liked that play with another text, a tribute to its style. But the reviewer said A Small Killing was also highly influenced by the films of Nicholas Roeg, and that required me to recall Roeg’s filmography: the weird Performance (with Mick Jagger), Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth (with David Bowie). Trippy, experimental films, often introspective. Roeg’s films are known for being disjointed, out of chronological and causal order. They seem unpredictable, sometimes leaving you wondering what the hell just happened. Recalling Roeg helped me understand A Small Killing, which I see as Moore’s and Zarate’s homage to Roeg and Nabokov (I don’t know how collaborative the process really was), and a commentary on the eighties, which I know Moore hated.
The story is about a pretty unlikeable rising ad executive (which you can imagine would be hard for Moore to make likeable) who scores an opportunity to market a soft drink in Moscow, but who has also recently had an affair that broke up his longer termed relationship. What we know from the title and cover and early on in the story, like From Hell, is that a killing will take place, (and not just a financial “killing,” haha) and our ad person is really afraid it is going to be him. And we basically know it is going to be him. So whodunnit is not the issue here. Almost all of it, ala Nabokov, happens as interior monologue, sometimes almost stream of consciousness, with much guilty and obsessive and possibly paranoid fears. Is he paranoid, or is he really being followed, ala Lolita’s Humbert? It’s about the interior process of going mad as much as anything else.
Unlike most of Moore’s work, there’s less talk, and he isn’t doing all this verbose commentary he usually does, and Moore and Zarate are trying to communicate something about subjective space, through their storytelling, through disruptive narration, through strange disjointed color and shapes and this overwhelming crowd noise, where we hear everyone talking at once. It’s disorienting. The plot itself is sort of straightforward, simple, though we don’t always know what is real, but that’s what is at issue, really, as with Roeg and Nabokov, is messing with point of view enough to give you vertigo. And it gets at the neo-liberal eighties and globalism, which enraged and disoriented Moore. So none of it is “fun”, it’s a kind of nightmare.
So thanks to one Goodreads reviewer that turned me on to the Roeg connection, I came to appreciate this homage they are doing and this commentary on art and narrative and culture. Like a few others, including Moore, I see it as a neglected classic… though I still don’t “like” all of Zarate’s art. It’s not likeable at all, really, except that is an ambitious artistic endeavor. At least I appreciate what I think they were trying to do! Maybe for some it didn’t really come off that well, but I found it interesting.
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