Alan Moore Book Club: ‘Illuminations’ – “Cold Reading”

by Koom Kankesan


This column of posts will deal with the stories in Alan Moore’s new collection Illuminations. Some of these stories are old and some are new.

The fourth entry in Illuminations by Alan Moore, “Cold Reading”, is eighteen pages long and was originally published in the pages of Moore’s magazine Dodgem Logic in 2010. As such, I vaguely remember reading this story years ago and could anticipate the twist. It might be a twist readers reading the story for the first time might anticipate too. It occurs to me that all of the stories thus far in this collection operate using a twist. Thankfully, it is not the only device Moore employs as twists can make a story feel forced if that is all it hinges upon. A sense of atmosphere, Northampton on a cold wintry night, is evoked as is The Boroughs, the impoverished neighbourhood Moore grew up in and often writes about. As such, this story could be a minor adjunct to the novel Jerusalem which Moore was working on at the time and would see publication six years later.

“Cold Reading” centres around the protagonist Ricky Sullivan, a self-proclaimed clairvoyant who communes with the dead for the fee of fifty pounds, or a stiff hundred if he has to make a house call. Sullivan tells the reader straight off the bat that he is a fraud but that he is providing a good service, like a priest, calming and assuring the bereaved, helping them feel better. So begin the prevarications, rationalizations, justifications, and outright lies. We quickly realize that Sullivan is a scoundrel and an opportunist and that he lies to himself just as often as he lies to others. Of course, in the hands of Moore, Sullivan will receive his comeuppance. Moore has always satirized the guilty and the greedy whether they are victimizers such as Milo Flynn in Swamp Thing #43, corrupt lawmakers such as the lascivious judge in the short story “Speaking in Tongues” (from the collection Voice of the Fire), or the callous yuppies in the unfinished Big Numbers. These characters usually embody the sorts of values Moore rails against and their equivalent today would be self-serving Tory party members. One also can’t help thinking of the fraudulent clairvoyant Robert Lees in From Hell.

Moore also, to some degree, critiques rationalist philosophy and thinking which makes no room for those realms of existence and perception that cannot be measured by our senses. As his fans undoubtedly know, most of Moore’s works have some transcendental component – if it’s not literal, this transcendental component is a stand in or metaphor for something else. But what is “Cold Reading” standing in for or commenting upon? Given the date of 2010, it might be people who turned a callous eye and profited from the severe austerities undertaken by the U.K. and other nations in the wake of the great financial collapse in 2008/09. Or this might simply be a slight tale whipped out by Moore on a wintry evening as a contribution to his magazine. In any case, it seems to be the least weighty or ethereal of the stories so far in Illuminations, and that brings us back to the title. The stories don’t deal with epiphanies (psychological illuminations) per se, so much as dramatic twists. Though it is not my favourite literary device, Moore has thus far used it well and I’m now curious whether the rest of the stories will also hinge upon this device.

Illuminations by Alan Moore is out now in book shops and online.

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