When I was wandering through Indonesia about 18 months ago, the book I had with me was Luther Blissett's Q. Luther Blissett was a five year plan which ended in 1999 but some of its participants decided to continue working together as Wu Ming. Their next book is called 54 ... finished reading it last night which was so hot and mosquito-ridden that I had trouble sleeping. The title refers to the year, 1954, during which the action takes place. It involves many things, including the fate of those Italians who fought in the Resistance, Lucky Luciano's heroin empire, Cary Grant's career as an actor, Tito's Yugoslavia, the post-war determination of the status of Trieste, the KGB ... but the heart of the book is day to day life in a small bar in Bolgona called the Aurora and more particularly the younger brother of the manager who is a barman there by day and a famous dancer by night. Robespierre - called Pierre - is the book's hero and the machinations by which he at last manages to find the freedom he craves are wonderfully plotted; while the central place in these machinations occupied by a state of the art American television set called a McGuffin Electric is wonderfully funny. Whereas Q was dark and bloody and mired in the desperate and desperately complex politics of the Reformation, 54 is light and airy as a Cary Grant movie, consistently amusing and yet never slight or anodyne ... it is extraordinary that five hands can make such a seamless work; you read in a state of perplexity as to how they did it? One of the most enjoyable things for me in the book is the portrait it gives, by way of a fragmentary biography, of Cary Grant, born Archibald Leach in Bristol - I didn't know he was a Brit originally. During 54 he is about to make a comeback in Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief so there is an engaging cameo of Hitch at work to be savoured as well. 54 is worth reading for its homage to a great actor alone but it is much more than that. Wu Ming! Woooo ...!

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