| [Reviewers keep callng us "anarchists". It's uncanny... They even say that the novel... "reflects our anarchic tendencies"!? Truly bizarre. BTW, although it may seem that "the different storylines were written by different authors, each with very different styles", it never happens like that. Each storyline is the result of collective brainstorming and multiple authorship, any variation in styles is a deliberate choice.]
The Daily Yomiuri (Japan), 14 August 2005
Anarchic novelists' formula yields '54'
Jane O'Dwyer / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
By Wu Ming
William Heinnemann, 640 pp, 16.99 pounds
What do a bunch of former New York mafiosi drug dealers trying to get a stranglehold on the global heroin market, the world's most elegant man (Cary Grant, working on behalf of MI6 to convince President Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia to allow Hollywood to make a sympathetic film about his regime), a barman whose ability to dance like a film star wins him the love of his life (who is unfortunately married to a murderous doctor) and a kind-hearted, politically radical architect have in common?
The answer, as unexpected and bizarre as most of the plotlines in 54, is an American McGuffin television set that has washed up in Italy.
54 is a writing experiment. Written by the Italian writing collective Wu Ming Foundation, which previously published Q under the name of Luther Blissett to mixed critical reaction, 54 defies many of the conventions of normal novel writing, with a mixed result.
The writers are radicals of the left-wing anarchist mold. They refer to each other as Wu Ming 1, Wu Ming 2 and so on, and regularly give speeches at political gatherings and writers conventions on their approach to writing and the publishing industry. There are no doubt few other published authors who reject the notion of copyright, arguing: "The reading of books can only be fostered by liberalizing the circulation of texts, not restricting it...Generally speaking, it must be noticed that all legislation on copyright is the product of an holigarchic [sic] and repressive mentality, politicians are ever more huddled up in defense of those privileged corporate lobby groups embezzling stuff that belongs to everyone." (Published on their Web site, www.wumingfoundation.com)
All their books, including this one, can be downloaded for free from their Web site, although they do encourage readers to buy the books so that Wu Ming can afford to keep writing.
Their writing reflects their anarchistic tendencies as much in the physical construction of the novel as in the stories it tells.
Toward the end of the first section, glimmers of the relationship among some of the tales begin to appear. In the second section of the book, the stories begin colliding and crashing into one another. Cary Grant washes up onto a beach after an encounter with Tito, to be saved by the intervention of Pierre, the lovelorn dancer and barman, who happens to be visiting his father in Yugoslavia at the time. The journey to Yugoslavia leads young Pierre into the sticky arms of the New York mafiosi, and later into an entanglement with the law and his lover's husband.
The concept of a collective novel is not unique. Leading Irish writers collaborated to produce the entertaining Night at Finbars Hotel, and Ladies Night at Finbars Hotel. Both of these novels worked well, the writers each contributing a story built around the occupant of a different room, with some unifying theme obviously agreed upon beforehand.
But 54 appears to take a different approach. It seems the different storylines were written by different authors, each with very different styles. And the risk of such an approach is that the stories don't always sit well together. This seems to be particularly problematic in the early part of the book. The rapid switching between styles and approaches can be exhausting and confusing for the reader.
However, despite all the hype and radicalism, 54 really is an entertaining and funny mystery crime romp, albeit one with a few political allegories floating around in the background. Each story is resolved, separately, in the canto, and the reader finishes the book with a gentle sense of satisfaction that is the reward for persevering.