Standalone to date
“In 1517, Martin Luther nails his ninety-five theses demanding reform of the Catholic Church to the door of Wittenburg Cathedral, setting off a period of upheaval, war, civil war and violence we now know as the Reformation.
In this age devastated by wars of religion, a young theology student adopts the cause of the heretics and the disinherited. Across the chessboard of Europe, from the German plains to the flourishing Dutch cities and down to Venice, the gateway to the East, our hero, a ‘Survivor’, a radical Protestant Anabaptist who goes under many names, and his enemy, a loyal papal spy and heretic hunter known mysteriously as “Q” play a game in which no moves are forbidden and the true size of the stakes remain hidden until the end. What begins as a personal struggle to reveal each other’s identity becomes a mission that can only end in death.”
I found this strangely addicting, if I’m completely honest. I read it for the first time last year, forgot to write a review, and had no problem rereading it again this year. It’s just one of those books that I want to reread over and over again and pick apart!
“Books only change the world if the world is capable of digesting them.”
1. The characters. This is really hard to judge for me. On one hand, the characters have a tendency to feel flat but on the other hand, if you really pay attention to them (their dialogue, their relationships), you begin to precipitate their essence so to speak. Another obstacle: the sheer size of the book and the number of events taking place (and therefore the number of characters met) is staggering so keeping track of them all is a trick. The narrator I find especially interesting. We never get his real, true name and we just know his by his multitude of pseudonyms. Overall, though, I enjoyed the inscrutability of the characters. They all have very hidden complexities that makes me want to reread this book again and pick it apart some more. If you like clearly defined characters and good, upfront development, I don’t think you’d enjoy the cast much. I think I’m a bit of a black sheep here.
“When a faith stubbornly maintained comes into contact with learning, the product of that encounter is always something magnificent, whether it be for good or ill.”
2. The plot. This, like the characters, is a little hard to pin down how I feel about it. Like I said above, SO much happens in this novel and sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. There are something like a dozen plotlines in this book and they all interplay with one another to form the picture of an era, rather than a single adventure. It takes place over roughly 35 years and follows the narrator through battles and attempted revolutions and failures and forgeries. And right beside him, the entire time, is a spy who foils everything he’s a part of. Really, it’s the story of these two people: Q and the narrator, and their dance through history. I think that’s what I find most fascinating about it and makes me want to reread it again soon. There’s just so much to digest and connect.
“I smile. No plan can take everything into account. Other people will raise their heads, others will desert. Time will go on spreading victory and defeat among those who pursue the struggle. I sip with satisfaction. We deserve the warmth of baths. May the days be aimless. Do not advance the action according to a plan.”
3. The romance. There are several ‘romances’ throughout the book and again, I’m not sure how I feel about them. On one hand, they seem to be very accurate with how things like that were handled back in the 1500s but on the other hand, there was never really any personality to them. You don’t see the differences between the romances, only that they exist which isn’t ideal.
“No one imagines keeping the powerful low for long, apart from anything because if the peasants governed and the lords worked the land, everyone would quickly die of hunger, because everyone gets the hands they deserve.”
4. The writing. As I’ve said above, there’s a lot to digest in this book and the writing is also something to add to that list. You really have to take your time because of how densely written it is. Major events take place within the span of a few pages so you really have to pay attention to everything. While I do think there could be more color to the writing, I also think that it matched the subject matter fairly well.
“…having already understood everything that you will understand henceforward and until the end of your days.”
The Final Verdict:
A sweeping novel that attempts to take on the story of an era and, for the most part, succeeding. I could reread this book over and over again however there is some occasional flatness throughout.
Meet the Author(s):
Luther Blissett is a “multiple name” adopted by many people all over the world since the mid-1990s, as part of a transnational activist project. This practice started in Italy when a vast network of cultural workers “borrowed” the name of a Jamaica born soccer player active in England and in Italy in the previous decade. Later on, the name was used as a collective pen name by a group of four Italian writers: Roberto Bui, Giovanni Cattabriga, Federico Guglielmi and Luca Di Meo, authors of the novel “Q”. Since January 2000, however, they have been writing under another collective pen name: Wu Ming (aka “Wu Ming Foundation”).