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[Reading] ➶ Q By Luther Blissett – Ultimatetrout.info
  • Paperback
  • 768 pages
  • Q
  • Luther Blissett
  • English
  • 16 October 2019
  • 9780156031967

10 thoughts on “Q

  1. says:

    Who knew there was so much blood & guts spilled over the anabaptist heresy? This 768-page page-turner never lacks for action as the title character, a shady Vatican secret agent, plays cat and mouse with Gert of the Well, his opposite number on the Protestant side. Along with your history lesson you get proto-communism, free love, bank fraud, crypto-jewery, backstabbing, book-binding, Venetian whoring, and vivid ultra-vi in various medieval European locales. If they ever make a movie of this one I will be first in line to buy a bucket of popcorn.

  2. says:

    Q by Luther Blissett is a wondrous novel. Set in the 16th century during the first decades of the Reformation, it follows two characters: an Anabaptist, member of the Radical Reformation – a movement that advocated greater spiritual and political change – and the mysterious Q, a spy for the Cardinal behind the reawekening of the Inquisition, Giovanni Pietro Carafa - the future Paul IV. The result is a thoroughly well researched romp, filled with religious imagery and speech, action, sex and well, not rock a’ roll but the 16th century equivalent, whatever it might be.

    But Q is far more than a fun read. The parallels established between the Anabaptists’ struggle and the modern fight against capitalism and State-power are obvious. This is only a novel about the 16th century insofar as it is set there. In all other aspects, this is a book about modernity, about the tide of historical forces that squash some things and allow others to survive.

    This might be explained by the fact that Luther Blissett is a pseudonym created by a group of Italian left wing activists, and that this novel is in fact a collaborative work between several of these people. So make no mistake: Q is a political work. It preaches hate against authority, money, and against all those who attempt to control free thinking and free speech. And above all, it teaches Omnia Sunt Communia. Everything belongs to everyone.

  3. says:

    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 struggle.

    There is a scene in Alan Bennett's History Boys where the instructor tells his students, if you want to know about Stalin you should study Henry VIII. I felt similar illustrations throughout this sprawling epic. Recurring tensions and responses proliferate through history. Well over a month was spent with Q, a month occupied otherwise by the World Cup and numerous intrigues into the depths of Derrida and Foucault. The baggy novel concerns millenarianism but in the befogged era of the religious wars and the Reformation. Street Fighting Men battle princes and papal guards, while revolutions orange and velvet give way to failed Springs and betrayed Thaws. The narrative as such concerns two men, equally unknown with protean noms-de-guerre: they act observe and operate for the opposing forces in this weird rethink of early modernity.

    Luther Blissett is the pseudonym for four politically radical Italian novelists who will later in another incarnation be known as Wu Ming. This creative endeavor finds its historical subject in a most messy marriage, one that gleams even as it oozes.

  4. says:

    The cold war between pro-capitalist and pro-communist spooks is trasplanted into the killing fields of Reformation Holy Roman Empire by the collective of writers known as Luther Blisset. The story attempts to follow the careers of a radical protestant and an underground member of the inquisition ("Q") for over 30 years, as they circle and try to dispose of each other. The set-pieces (the battle of Frankenhausen, the revolution in Leyden) are well-told, but most of the characters are not well-defined and so it is difficult to care for them.

    It is as if though the characters are an excuse to retell the history of the times. That wouldn't be so bad, except that the history is not fairly told. The authors obviously intended the radical fringe of early protestantism as a metaphor for radical leftist revolutionaries of the XX Century. This impression is heightened if one considers the attachments to the book, which besides a few pictures of the main characters, includes instruments of torture of right-wing or pro-Western governments of recent times.

    In reality Thomas Müntzer, the radical theologician that led the German peasants into senseless slaughter at Frankenhausen was not an idealist who wanted to redeem the masses, but a millennarian prophet who cared more about destroying the old world than about creating a new one (see Cohn's "The Pursuit of the Millennium" for a fascinating review of Müntzer in the context of a very old tradition of religious radicals that actually reaches to our very day), whose rethoric of bloody extermination of opponents strikes a reader as very similar to that of Stalinists in the show trials of the 1930s. And it is surely ridiculous to attribute the failure of the Münster Anabaptists not to sectarian politics but to manipulation by popish agent-provocateurs as appears in this book. This is a common accusation among radical left groups, who are inclined to impute their inability to get along and work together to divisive actions by obscure class-enemies or imperialists.

    In fact, the hagiographic presentation of Müntzer is a dead giveaway of where this book is coming from: East German history presented this enemy of both Pope and Luther as a proto-Marxist, and in fact the largest painting in the world refers to Müntzer at the battle of Frankenhausen and is titled "Bourgeouis Revolution in Germany", painted by Werner Tübke, and commissioned by the East German leadership (400 feet long, 45 feet high, and still around, in its special built-to-purpose museum) prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The analogy between radical reformers and XX century Marxist revolutionaries is not subtly evinced, and it is a pity, for subtleness would have had more impact on the readers.

    The book is not only manichean in its portrayal of good, but misguided revolutionaries and an all-powerful and a malignant Catholic Church (represented by Cardinal Gianpietro Carafa, later elected Pope and known as Paul IV) where political calculations trump all religious commitment (as evidenced by s fictitious conversation with Cardinal del Monte who acknowledges his essential agreement with reform partisans, but indicates that he will be unable to do anything about it since he has just been elected Pope). It is also very defficient in character portrayal (as already noted, all characters sound the same), and has a a tenuous plot (it ties together many episodes that in reality were not connected, so that the parts of the book are greater than the whole). On the other hand, these episodes are so thrilling in themselves, and so little known about them by most people, that even a mediocre novel such as this one may be defended on the grounds that maybe some of the readers will be interested in learning more and finding out the truth. If you would like to know more about this era and can be bothered to take up a hefty but wonderful book, don't bother with this one. Go for Diarmaid McCullough's "The Reformation", which tells the whole story in a readable fashion, and without hidden agendas.

  5. says:

    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.

  6. says:

    Q tells the story of a Forrest Gump of the reformation age. We never learn the real name of this unsung hero. He's an anabaptist, representing one of the radical arms of the reformation. Whenever something crucial in early anabaptism happens, he's present: Müntzer's peasant upheaval, the synode of the martyrs in Augsburg, the tragedy of Münster in 1635, Jan van Batenburg's apocalyptic riders, Eloi Pruystincks early libertarian commune. He changes identities but is always in the middle of the action - usually everybody else gets killed and only he survives the atrocities. As he gradually discovers, there is a secret adversary only known by the name of Qohelet (preacher), a papal spy who manages to foil all efforts of the anabaptists from within. He's working for Gianpietro Carafa, the head of the Roman Inquisition and later pope Paul IV. Via Basel, our Forrest ends up in Venice for the final showdown with Q, aided by Portuguese sephardim. There, things don't turn out as expected.
    The protagonist is driven by a lust for a self-determined life, not any sense of a spiritual mission. The papal spy is working on the mission of Carafa to maintain the fundament of the catholic church through the reformation. The fundament is fear of god which is threatened by protestantism and it's central principle "sola fide", i.e. the justification by faith alone.
    The whole book offers an irritating point of view for somebody who is used to lutheranism as the driving force behind the reformation in Germany. In Q, Luther is rather part of the establishment and the papacy is instrumentalizing him against the more violent arms of the reformation as well as to curb the ambitions of the emperor Karl V. Here, the anabaptist movement is the focus of the story. They are mostly militant and form the left wing of the reformation. They advocate the renouncement of private property, a liberal sexual moral and most of all don't accept any profane government. The true evil force in Q are the ones who pull the strings behind the scenes: beside the inquisition these are foremost the bankers represented by the Fuggers.
    This leads to the message of the book. It's authored by an anonymous Italian collective named Luther Blissett. Even before reading the book my assumption was that they want to convey that things can change on a broad level. The reformation of the church in the 16th century is a symbol for a possible change of society in the 21st century, which the authors seem to deem necessary. When the power of the Fuggers is introduced,this message becomes even clearer. It's a plea against globalization today. I would assume that the authors joined the Occupy movement later.
    While the development of anabaptism in 16th century Germany seems an odd choice for Italians to write about, the theme hits a home run for me, as the upheaval caused by reformation and culminating in the thirty-years war hundred years later is my favourite historic period. This carries the novel for me in spite of political messages I don't share and neglecting two central heroes which are larger than life and completely unbelievable. I enjoyed it as a historical thriller, a genre I normally don't read anymore. Considering this, 3 stars is a good rating which could have been better if the characters had been a bit more human and average.

  7. says:

    I noticed this book on a shelf in Waterstones nine years ago. It called to me but the appeal went unheard. I don't know why. The other day I was in Blackwells just idling time whilst waiting for the lunchtime concert to begin at the RNCM... Some books lure you as they spot you from their shelves. They whisper in your head; "I am full of wondrous things... I am full of promise.... you will never forget me". All the great books I've ever read did that to me; a quirky title ("The Name of the Rose", "Man's Rise to Civilization") or an intriguing cover (the Rorschach test of that Panther "Inferno" that started me on a quest that still goes on).
    So it was with "Q". I sat, as I waited for lunch in Brodsky's, and started reading... I read it on the steps as I waited for the concert hall to open... I read it on the tram on my way home and I read and I read and I read.
    This is a wonderful book. It was written for me. I first became fascinated with the Radical egalitarian movements of the 1500s when I read Norman Cohn's "The Pursuit of the Millennium" - it appealed to the ardent anarcho-Christian-socialist I was then. The Reformation and the Renaissance went hand in hand with the striving for freedom, with its roots long before in the peasant uprisings of the Middle Ages. That struggle has continued through the debates of the Levellers and the Diggers, the confrontations of the Anarchists, and the sacrifice of Socialists down the ages. "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?" are words carved on my heart just as "Calais" was carved on Queen Mary's.
    This is an exciting book. At the centre of it is a spider spreading his web in order to manipulate the course of history, Carafa. It is the history of two men: one, Carafa's Eye, Q, a secret agent; the other, our hero, an unnamed man of many names, an ardent idealist. It is the story of their battle of wills over the years. It is a tale of idealism and extremism, of persecution and faith, of lost causes and dreams, of power and what men will do to hold it. Across its stage stride the great figures of the first half of the 16th century and whilst it deals with events so long ago it resonates with a more modern agenda as if to say "these are not just things of the past, all this is still relevant today."
    This is a well-written book whose words flow and capture your imagination. It is like a drug - you can't put it down. The pace is constant yet there are moments of peace and calm. There are also moments of horror and earthly brutality. It begins with action, men fleeing from the bloody weapons of a conquering army. We feel the adrenalin pulse, the breath painful in our chest. Panic and fear. It ends in a calm, civilised room, warm and luxuriant, over a cup of coffee.
    This is a great book.

  8. says:

    Other reviewers have already addressed the plot of the novel so no point in my reiterating. This is a novel that is vast in scope and whilst filled to the brim with historical detail and events it is also a mystery. Two antagonists who circle each other over the span of thirty years, each fighting for their beliefs. This is a complex and convoluted novel and I had difficulty initially until I had some further understanding of the period.

    I would have liked to have rated it higher simply due to the ambition of the novel but for this reader the delivery wasn't always smooth. Sometimes I found myself falling into the story and then would be jarred out. In the first part the use of modern day words, i.e "pal", "mate" I found jarring and they didn't gel with the story/ times depicted.

    However I loved the vastness of the novel, I haven't read anything of a similar vein. Loved the machinations of the characters and felt that although somewhat initially disappointed with the ending I felt on reflection that it was fitting.

  9. says:

    ??? 2000s: if you like eco’s name of the rose, you can think of this in comparison as a street-level political thriller rather than a philosophical murder mystery. i love both books. this is notably easy to read in short paragraphs and chapters, but very long, multi-voiced, similar to moby dick. i do not know the details of reformation history but this work seems credible, and it is fascinating that four writers wrote it: everyone had their special realm of expertise, everyone must have collaborated with how it goes, but it is whole and moving rather than confusing or dispersed. i will read this again...

  10. says:

    This book covers the era when Martin Luther nailed up his criticism of the corruption of the Catholic Church, the early 1500's. It was a time when the peasants started to protest their treatment by the brigands, who called themselves nobles, and the torturers who maintained moral and civil law, who called themselves the Church. The entire book is written from the point of a young university student who must change his identity every time he gets in trouble with the two power factions running Germany. The story is very gritty. You are there in the mud and cold fighting local louts outside the inn where you've been drinking. You are stunned to find out the nobles know what your fighters are up to and have arrived with cannons. You gradually figure out there is some very clever traitor giving away your friends' secret plans and no matter where you run he's following you. You find paradise on earth in a commune in Holland where the pretty girls sleep with anyone, even you, a tired old man at 40. The story goes on and on and you have no desire to see it end. It's expertly written, enthralling. The book bounces around between the letters the traitor writes to a supremely evil ambitious cardinal and the attempts of the hero to fight this system of subjugation city by city, farm by farm. Read it.

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