Book ten: Q by Luther Blissett

Did it really take me seven weeks to read that? Wow. A combination of lack of reading time and the extraordinary complexity of Q is to blame. I imagine this book is easier to digest in three or four hefty sittings than in 20 minute bites to and from work over several weeks.

If you don't already know, the author, Luther Blissett, is not the former Watford footballer but the collective nom de plume of four Italian writers. They aren't the first people to use the Luther Blissett pseudonym. Since Q, a fifth writer has joined the group and they now go by the name Wu Ming.

Q takes us on a journey across reformation Europe as seen through the eyes of our narrator, a protestant and anabaptist. As he survives one historic event after another, from the Peasant's War and the siege of Munster and beyond, the narrator sheds names and identities.

Throughout, his endeavours are thwarted by the mysterious Q, a catholic spy. Gradually, over the thirty years which the novel spans, the two men are brought together.

It sounds exciting and, for the most part, it is but between set pieces it's pretty heavy going. I don't know how many characters there are but it feels like hundreds. I found I had to go back pretty frequently to remind myself who was who. It doesn't help that many of the characters are virtually interchangeable.

The structure of the novel doesn't make things any easier. The first two sections plunge you into the midst of events without much explanation and then fill you in via flashbacks.

Much of the time, the language fizzes strangely with modern slang - "cops", "mate" etc - which is jarringly anachronistic. At other times it's formal and flowery prose. It's an odd combination.

Still, it may be flawed but Q is a deeply intelligent book, replete with post-modern layers. The narrator, nameless and switching identities with ease, echoes the behaviour of the authors. The final section of the novel, which deals with the attempt to publish and distribute a book of ideas, is reminiscent of Q itself, which is published under a 'copyleft' notice and can be downloaded from the Wu Ming Foundation's website.

A small notice at the back of the book, condemning the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia relates the novel to contemporary concerns. Six years after it's publication, with the world riven by factions fighting over whose god is bigger, Q's message is as meaningful as ever.

It's a fascinating novel, rich in historical detail but it does require patience.