Thursday, August 11, 2011

2,554: V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

I’ve been silent in the blogosphere for a couple of weeks now, as work has slightly overtaken all my other activities.  In particular, I’ve spent much of the last week in Texas on business, which is how I came to be sitting in a hotel room in Houston on Monday, when an email came through from Mrs F, telling me that London was burning.  Being unable to find out what was going on from TV or the Internet, I only discovered that mass rioting had broken out in London once I had managed to call her.  I am sure everyone will have seen the images of looting and general rampaging.  Most frighteningly, one of the riots had been taking place as we spoke only a fifteen minute walk away from our home.

I was thoroughly unsettled by this, all the more so because I was several thousand miles and six time zones away from home and was clearly unable to protect my family should anything have happened.  Fortunately, nothing actually did happen and I am pleased to report that both Mrs F and mini-Falaise are completely intact, as is Falaise Towers.  Even more troubling, however, has been the fact that within the space of a few hours, I descended from my day-to-day relative liberalism (some may even say laissez-faire-ism) to the worst kind of authoritarian.  I wanted the perpetrators locked up and the keys to be thrown away.  I would have been happy to see the Household Division patrolling the streets of South West London with live ammunition and I suddenly decided that hooded tops were the Devil’s work.  My mind wasn’t a pretty sight.

A flight back to the UK and a good night’s sleep has restored some of my better nature and, whilst I still see a case for more proactive policing and tougher sentencing policy and have nothing but contempt for the petty criminals who went out looting and burning, I am no longer foaming at the mouth about law and order.

But my reaction to the events of the past few days has brought me back to a graphic novel I read earlier this year and which has formed part of my ever-lengthening review back log.  V for Vendetta is a graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, published in the 1980s.  Its backdrop is a post-apocalyptic England in which a fascist government has exploited the people’s desire for security to seize power and to create a one party state.  The eponymous “V” has begun a concerted attempt to destroy the organs of power in an attempt to have the people overthrow the ruling party and assert their own liberty.

I’ve not really read many graphic novels, a few superhero comics here and there and that’s about it so I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity and richness of V for Vendetta.  Moore and Lloyd have created a truly dystopian England, drawn in shades of grey and muted colours and, in V, an enjoyably ambiguous protagonist, flamboyantly drawn in a Guy Fawkes mask and 17th Century garb.

The central theme of the novel is the struggle between fascism, represented by the ruling party and its functionaries and anarchy, as personified by V.  Yet, although there is nothing positive about the party’s almost gangster fascism, the brand of anarchy expounded by V is not exactly depicted approvingly either.

V is capable of extreme cruelty and violence, which he rationalises as being necessary to destroy the party and to bring about freedom.  At times, he even looks a little like a reflection of the party, which is prepared to carry out similar acts in the name of ensuring stability.  The episode in which he incarcerates and mentally tortures Evey, his protégé, is an explicit parallel to the torture he has suffered at the hands of the ruling party.  One of the things I found most striking about the novel was this conflict at the heart of V, the debate as to whether he was anarchist as pursuer of liberty or anarchist as terrorist.  It is even unclear as to whether he is sane or not.  There is also an ambiguity about his motives.  Is he a true revolutionary, seeking to overthrow an evil system or is he merely out to seek revenge from the government that sent him to a concentration camp?  Ultimately, I found this depth of ambiguity one of the most fascinating elements of the novel and it is probably the factor that lifts it above the level of mere comic book.

Above and beyond the issues that emanate from the person of V, Moore also questions whether the ideal of liberty as espoused in V’s apparent anarchic philosophy is actually a good thing.  V refers often in the book to the “Land of Do-As-You-Please” and “The Land of Take-What-You-Want”, names taken from Enid Blyton’s “The Magic Faraway Tree”, a children’s book he reads Evey to sleep with whilst she is living with him.  These titles evoke selfishness as much as freedom to me and, when combined with the orgy of violence and self-indulgence that breaks out amongst the populace when V disables the government’s surveillance systems and the images of chaos at the end of the book when a general insurrection leads to the defeat of the government, paint a darker picture of V’s philosophy.

Underlying the main plot is a series of sub-plots, highlighting the opportunism that appears to be characteristic of many people and the tension between doing what we should and doing what is advantageous to us.  In brief, there are few wholly positive characters in the book and mankind is not painted in a kind light.  Jolly, this is not.  What it is, however, is a graphic novel that has opened my eyes to the potential of this genre.  I shall be looking for more of these to read and would heartily recommend it to you.  It is also in a different league to the film adaptation.

Finally, one of the clearest statements in the book is about the evils of authoritarianism and fascism. Regardless of V’s motives or the validity of his views, the reader, through Evey, is left in no doubt as to the need to take responsibility for our political and cultural system, to assert our freedom and to reject the apparent comforts of an over-weening state.  It’s a common message in dystopian literature and one that hit home again earlier this week when, for a moment, I wanted to set the armed forces on my fellow citizens.


Amy said...


I thoroughly enjoyed this review and am so glad to have read it. Believe it or not, I just watched V for Vendetta last night (for about the 10th time) because I too was thinking of the London riots. I have long said that the movie is the most literary script I have ever encountered, chalk full of Shakespeare quotes and beautiful prose in his speeches. I get chills every time I hear him say, "While the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation,words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there?"

After I introduced one of my friends to the movie, he quickly read the graphic novel and told me that it was fantastic. I am sorry to say I have not yet read it, but your post inspires me further to make that happen. I'm curious to hear how you feel about the movie. When I lived in England briefly, I discovered that my English friends were quite opposed to it for its historical inaccuracy and "Americanization" of a story set in England. Although I can recognize this, I cannot shake my love for the language and the message behind it. As you explained so eloquently, there is a running tension about whether V is a hero or a villain. Regardless, we are filled with the profound sense that we must take responsibility for our lives and discard complacency. I just love the way you discussed all this and hope to check out the graphic novel soon.


Falaise said...

Amy - thank you so much for the kind comment. It is interesting you mention Shakespeare as, in the graphic novel, V often speaks in iambic pentameters, one of Shakespeare's favourite rythms. I wouldn't say I disliked the movie but I did find it rather flat and shallow compared to the novel and I can understand the criticisms your English friends make.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I think the riots brought up the authoritarian in all of us. I kept thinking: send in Gene Hunt! I'm glad your family and Falaise Towers (lol!) are unharmed.

I've read more than one person connect V for Vendetta and the events in London. Someone should make a list of "Top 10 Book to Read During Riots".

Falaise said...

Thanks, Alex. I should have used your idea for the Top Ten Tuesday meme!