Victoria Young's Reviews > Q

Q by Luther Blissett
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Dec 30, 11

bookshelves: historical-fiction, action-adventure, post-modernism
Read from October 04 to December 30, 2011

This is one of the most challenging books I've read and I vacillated between loving and hating it. So to be fair, I'd really like to give this 3.5 stars but it seemed worthy of rounding up, rather than down.

It became obvious very early on in the piece that this book would be very difficult because of my lack of background knowledge of the Reformation and papal intrigues. There is an enormous cast of characters, often bearing similar names (there's more Jans and Johans than you can poke a stick at). But my edition had a helpful appendix with portraits of the historical figures and that made the reading somewhat easier. Another difficulty I encountered was the ever shifting identity of the protagonist. We never learn the original or 'true' name of the hero of this book and keeping up with his aliases through the non-linear time shifts kept me on my toes.

All of that is ok though, as long as you have the patience and willingness to concentrate on the very complex plot. What really brought down the rating for me was the pacing of the book. The narrative stops and starts very abruptly as it jumps back and forth across forty-odd years of tumultuous history. One minute the protagonist is in the thick of a pitched battle; the next, you have to wade through twenty pages of meditations on life and hardship taking place two or three years later. I suppose that is at least partly to do with the novel's being a collaboration between four authors, but I certainly would have enjoyed the reading much more (and probably completed it in much shorter time) if the suspense and action had been a little more consistent.

Now that my gripes are out of the way, there's plenty of reasons why it's still a great book. Firstly, the sheer ambition and scope of this book is fabulous. To cover such a huge swathe of complex history in one unified plot is an impressive achievement. And I learned so much about the history of the Catholic church and its challengers. What's more, even though the historical detail is exacting, the themes of challenging authority and dogma, money and power, rebellion, making wealth communal etc have a lot of relevance to the modern zeitgeist.

Another aspect that I paticularly enjoyed was the way the seemingly disparate elements of a sprawling narrative came together in the end. It was a great mystery, and bits of the plot that I never expected to be related came together and I was totally taken by surprise by the final 'reveal'. And even then, when all the players were unmasked it plot still took a few odd twists, and the reader is left with a kind of thoughtful, wryly hopeful resolution, rather than the usual neat, cliched ending of just desserts served to all.

I'd recommend this to anyone willing to take on a challenging read, with an interest in 16th century European history. If you like Umberto Eco's novels or the Showcase series The Borgias, there's a good chance you'll enjoy Q as well.
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