Manituana – Wu Ming

So that’s Wu Ming who did Q as Luther Blisset, an Italian collective of intellectualist author types who prefer pseudonymity.

One of the quotes on the back of the book describes this as a kind of lefty jazz thing. I’m not entirely certain what that means, but I get the jazz reference – this book is a series of scenes in order, but without a tune or structure. It’s a bit free-wheeling! It’s daring! It describes the birth of the American nation and the death of the Indian Six Nations! It’s rather dull and has virtually no characters in it I cared about.

That’s not entirely true. Well, it is dull (and worthy!) but I did quite like Philip aka Le Grand Diable (sometimes called the Great Devil) aka Rohanonterinte or some such. And whoever the whore was who had about forty names for her mams, she was amusing. But most of the others didn’t really do much for me. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I struggled to keep them straight – some of them had more than one name, I couldn’t ever remember who was related to who, some of them disappeared for a hundred pages…

But I think it was really the lack of plot that killed it for me. There was, of course, only one way things were going to go, but there must have been a better story (any story!) in there somewhere. All we got were fragments of the narrative; scenes separated by hundreds of miles or weeks and months, some of which were germane, some not so much.

One of the things about jazz is that it’s OK to have a bit of improvisation and that, based on a framework, you know, you’ve got a dusty copy of Kind of Blue somewhere. But the really good stuff has dazzling technical virtuosity or wit that makes you go “yeah, man that’s hip” or something, and stroke your goatee. But (and possibly because this is in translation, although I don’t really think so) this didn’t have that for me.

Which is a shame. First because I quite liked Q, even though you could probably level a lot of the same criticisms at it (except for not knowing who was who, which may be my fault). And secondly because there’s definitely a place for a book about the birth of the American nation, how it came about and what it destroyed, especially as it negotiates the current sticky point in its history.

See also:

Kind of Blue – fuck it, dig that out. It’s America’s only native art form (a totem pole won’t fit in your CD player).

Q – give it a go. Easily the most blood-drenched book starring a monk I’ve ever read.

Mayflower – an early, factual history of settlers in America and their relationships with the locals.

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