Wu Ming is a collective of novelists meaning “no-name” in Chinese; most of the same collective was responsible for the Luther Blissett novel Q. One reviewer called this “a beach read for grown-ups.” I freely admit to frequenting another beach.

54 (so titled for the year in which it takes place) is a challenging novel to clarify, to begin reading, and to connect with. The unremitting fluctuations of plotlines and introductions of characters and settings is the definition of the word “confusion.” Cary Grant, as a member of the British Intelligence Agency M16, heads to Yugoslavia to convince Marshal Tito that “West is Best” and filming a movie wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Robespierre is a young Italian whose quest to find his father reads like a travelogue on speed. And as a third plot device, Wu Ming has tossed in Lucky Luciano and his driver/gofer Steve “Cement” Zollo, who has a knack for pilfering Lucky’s money, making waves, and causing trouble for his Boss. I liked Steve. But then I liked McGuffin the television. He kept changing hands, showing up unexpectedly in the storyline, had his own dialogue. McGuffin was a delightful, mad character. I’m sure I’ve overlooked the social significance of a talking television… but I certainly enjoyed him.

The plots do eventually converge, and the ending was satisfying though it wasn’t worth the exhausting struggle it took to get there. Maybe it depends on what you consider beach reading?

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