I first heard of this book around fifteen years ago on Channel 4’s Football Italia. It had nothing to do with the former Watford and A.C Milan striker, but in the UK that connection did get it in the media as a bizarre “and finally” style story. This Luther Blissett is (or was) a collective of Italian anarchist writers who used the name as a anonymous group nom de plume for their works (“Anyone can be Luther Blissett simply by adopting the name Luther Blissett”).
The premise of the book, however, did interest me. The Reformation. Revolting Peasants. Prophetic Anabaptist preachers. Scheming bankers. The intrigue of the medieval catholic church. Much of this is not fiction – the book follows a character through the German Peasants’ War, the Munster Rebellion, and fringe groups of the reformation in Antwerp and Venice. He changes his name several times and, perhaps, becomes harder and more cynical.
These changes do feel natural. Although the chapters are short and the book skips quickly through its thirty year time span, the character and his path are shown, not told. Life as a protestant radical is given the feeling of a left wing political movement, an anarchist protest, or occasionally a football crowd. The atmosphere of the book throughout the Munster rebellion is fantastic with hope for a brighter future drifting into despair and terror as Jan Matthys finally arrives.
At times the blending of anti-capitalism and religion is a little heavy handed. I felt that Imprimatur by Monaldi & Sorti (another Italian novel from the same time) featured the murky dealings of the church’s agents with more subtlety. I wouldn’t hold that against it, it feels very suited to the radical hero of the book. The final showdown with Q, a papal spy and the main antagonist, feels like a little bit of an anti-climax; but I suspect that was only because the journey to that point was so enjoyable.
The authors behind Luther Blissett have since changed their name to Wu Ming, and I look forward to reading more of their work!