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'54 [Hardcover]

Wu Ming
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 May 2005
The new novel by the authors of Q. As extraordinary and bizarre a Cold War thriller as that book was a historical novel. The year is 1954, the height of the Cold War. The world is divided into East and West. In Naples, Lucky Luciano and his minions are busy fixing horse-races, and overseeing the creation of the global heroin trade. In Hollywood, members of Her Majesty's Secret Service have a bizarre and dangerous mission for Cary Grant. And in Bologna,, a lovelorn young barman, is about to embark on a painful odyssey in search of his missing father. Bringing together all these strands and more is a missing television set, a McGuffin Electric, an appliance with a very special secret...At once a political thriller and a touching romance, 54 has a cast ranging from Italian partisans to KGB agents, from American Mafiosi to Parisian lowlifes, and features appearances by Alfred Hitchcock, Marshal Tito and the Emperor of Indochina. Wu Ming - the collective formerly known as Luther Blissett - have produced another tour-de-force that paints a dazzling picture of a past age while slyly commenting on our own.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann Ltd; First Edition edition (5 May 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0434012939
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434012930
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 15.6 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 629,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Praise for "Q":
"Big and bloody and breathtaking: a crush of colour and crowds, exotic locations and war."
--"The Times"
"If ever there was a novel that deserved to win prizes, accolades and plaudits, it is Q . . . A rich, inventive and immensely powerful book . . . Q is a great novel, one that tells us about ourselves and how we came to be here."
--"Scotland on Sunday"
"As a historical blockbuster, it boasts pace, colour, excitement and suspense to spare...Q works like a charm as a sordid, splendid period romp."
"The air is full of blistering debate, revolutionary preaching and the smell of smoke, both from burning icons in the churches and the pyre on which the heretics are burned . . . A sprawlng epic."

Book Description

The new novel by the authors of Q. Another international cult success, as extraordinary and bizarre a Cold War/Mafia thriller as that book was a historical novel. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Cold War treat. 21 Sep 2005
Being a huge fan of Q I have been eagerly awaiting the follow up from the Luther Blissett/ Wu Ming collective. And '54 is not a disappointment, although it is different. Q was the story of one man, doggedly so (arguably even the extracts from Q's diary, as they were given to the protagonist in the end are not outside the central characters sphere of knowledge) and its pace was from the way in which the book would flicker between periods in time. '54 however, is the story of several characters moving through a strict timeline that marches on day by day each chapter. And it is the characters who inhabit '54 that make it such a rich book. There is Pierre, a young Italian who reminded me of Tony in Saturday Night Fever, and his relationship with a married woman. There is Steve "Cement" an American gangster living in Italy wanting to break free from his powerful boss. Then of course, Cary Grant. The Cary Grant sections, as another reviewer has said are excellent, especially when he is struggling with his own identity - is he Cary Grant or Archie Leech?
'54 maintains the fast pace of Q and as a result suffers from some of its failings. The chapters are often very short and frequently move between distant and unrelated characters in the blink of an eye and for much of the book it is uncertain why we are being told the story of these people. The connections become apparent towards the end and the glue that holds them together is Cary Grant who is taken to the Eastern Block and sees the madness of the world the other two characters live in. The solution to this however is to enjoy the character's stories and involve yourself in the densely populated and richly historical world of the book. Like Q a lot of the minor characters are instantly memorable and add an extra level of enjoyment.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Cary Grant's assignment by MI6 to play the role of Yugoslav leader Marshall Tito in a film biography is just one of the plot lines in this jam-packed novel, filled with subplots from its 1954 setting. The west is trying to form closer ties with Tito, while the Soviets, with whom he has already broken, are acting to prevent this. Many Italian partisans fought on the Yugoslav front during World War II and have remained there, supported by friends and family in Bologna as they engage in the smuggling of oil into Trieste. As members of the local communist party, these Bolognese supporters are trying to control the future of "Italian" Trieste. In Naples, Salvatore Lucania ("Lucky Luciano"), recently deported from the US, works at controlling the world's drug trade.

As these plots develop simultaneously, the reader must keep track of dozens of characters and their activities, since the various plots do not overlap until the end. Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, David Niven, Grace Kelly, and the James Bond novels all play parts in Grant's story. The Naples story, with Luciano, involves all the on-going crimes of this don and his henchmen--drugs, race-fixing, gambling, prostitution. The Bologna plot is far more domestic, with a young man searching for his father, who is in Trieste, and a love story involving a married woman who takes care of her mentally ill brother. Minor threads involve the McCarthy hearings, Emperor Bao Dai from Vietnam, Nikita Krushchev, and even Fidel Castro.

Wu Ming, the "author," is actually a collective of five Italian writers (four of whom, known as "Luther Blissett," wrote the Reformation novel, Q).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 54 22 Oct 2007
When a novel balances itself on the head of a pin, and when the complexities of that novel come to weigh as much as the pyramids, there is always the chance that the whole thing will come tumbling down to destroy the piece and end the suspension of belief. The longer the novel, the more intricate the complications, the greater the sense that now, just now, or at the very latest the next page, the plot will unravel and the machinations behind it all will be revealed. Broken cogs in a clock, the hand stuffed inside the ventriloquist's dummy. 54 has an even greater challenge, in that it was written by the Wu Ming collective, a group of five Italian authors working in tandem. Put it all together, and it could be a recipe for disaster. Happily, barring a few unfortunate mistakes, 54 is an entertaining, complicated novel that succeeds more than it fails.

54 draws on a complicated set of character interactions, the beginning of which seem to be ridiculously separate. We have Cary Grant bored with his acting lifestyle, propositioned by the British secret service, the MI6, to travel to Yugoslavia to meet Tito about a movie. We have Pierre, a young Italian man who loves to dance and misses his father. We have a sentient television known, with the clever but strained name of McGuffin. We have drug runners, Italian mobsters, Russian spies, American FBI agents. The list threatens to become exhaustive during the January of 1954 - for the book's name comes from the year in which it is set, 1954, a year when Joseph McCarthy was causing widespread panic and distrust amongst Hollywood entertainers and intellectuals in general through his communist scares - but the novelists keep everything flowing.
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