The novel Q by the fraternity of Italian anarchists known as the Wu Ming Foundation (writing here under the wonderfully meaningless nom de plume Luther Blissett – Luther was a journeyman footballer who briefly featured in the AC Milan squad of the 1980s) is, to my mind, as much fun as you can have with your clothes on, certainly clothed in front of a book.
Writing more than a decade ago, the authors were actively trying to make a political point (several, actually) by charting the bloody oppression of and internecine warfare between the various factions that made up Reformation-era Continental Europe. They go as far as to include in the novel’s appendix (mostly 16th Century woodcuttings depicting gruesome acts) an excerpt from a press release denouncing the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999.
Fortunately, Q is about as far away from a dry political treatise as one could wish: the narrative traces the rising and falling fortunes of an Anabaptist revolutionary, who amongst other things is witness to the terrible siege of Münster. On the tail of the revolutionaries is a Papist spy, whose attempts to infiltrate and undermine are told through the letters he writes to his master in Rome. The whole thing is chock-full of sex, violence, intrigue, religion, and lots and lots of mud.
That this novel about revolt and the attempts of those in power to oppress it is still relevant a decade on quickly becomes apparent in the early chapters. About two thirds of the way through, the 21st Century parallels become almost laughably clear. Our hero, battered and psychologically bruised following the horrors of Münster, has reached Antwerp and is having a revealing conversation about the way the world really works:
‘Now you know where to find the Antichrist you’ve spent your whole life fighting.’
‘In there?’ I point at the imposing building in front of us. [a bank]
‘No. In the purses that pass from hand to hand all around the world. You’ve fought against princes and property owners. I’m telling you that without money those people would be nothing, you’d have defeated them long ago. Instead, there’s always a banker hanging around to finance their initiatives.’
‘I can see how that applies to commercial enterprises, but what does a banker get out of financing a war against the peasants?’
‘Do you need to ask? So that they’ll go back and till the fields of their masters, dig in their mines. From that moment, the bankers will get a considerable share of everything produced.’