Although I’d quite enjoyed the film in 2005 I never quite got around to reading V for Vendetta. I don’t read very many graphic novels in general. Not for any particular reason, I just never seem to get around to them. However, when one of the book club group suggested V for Vendetta I was more than up for it.
I’d forgotten how brutal the story is at points. This isn’t a fun book but it is actually quite a timely one to be reading, given the current political moods in the UK (and in the US) and in particular the mistrust of the press and the tendency to scapegoat groups of marginalised people. Perhaps we’re not quite living in a post-nuclear war totalitarian horrorscape, but that’s not to say that there aren’t parallels to be drawn.
For those not familiar with the film or the book, it’s set in the UK, mostly in London, some time after a nuclear war. It’s an alternative vision of the 1990s, the war having occurred at the end of the 1980s. The UK is now a police state with a terrifyingly corrupt authoritarian government which came to power in the panic that followed the war, promising to keep people safe.
The character V wants to bring down this government and set people free again. His technique is anarchy. He enlists Evey Hammond to his cause and although she never finds out who he is, and although he commits atrocities in the name of “freeing” her and everyone else, she becomes his protege, a decision I have mixed feelings about.
Actually, I have mixed feelings about V in general. His activities do not sit well with me and I think it’s because it’s too easy to misread him as a hero. He is not a hero: He is a monster. The fact that he is a monster isn’t his fault – he was by the authorities who mistreated him – and being a monster doesn’t prevent him from achieving great things, but he is still a monster. His existence shouldn’t be celebrated but regretted. I don’t know whether the things that he achieves in the story could have been achieved any other way, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about the way things did happen.
The difficulties I have with V aside, this is a well-told, compelling story with a few flaws which basically come from it having been written thirty years ago. For example, my edition included a foreword in which Alan Moore admitted that, when writing the story, they hadn’t realised quite how devastating nuclear war would be and had made the assumption that people would survive – they are now less convinced that this would be the case. I’d be curious about the changes that Moore and Lloyd would make if they were to write this today.
This may be all very well and good to speculate about, but did I enjoy the book? Well… Yes, I think I did. It’s far from cheerful but it is a good adventure and even if there are things that are hard to read about and characters that I really didn’t like (and didn’t even enjoy hating, the way you might a traditional baddie) I still thought it was a good read. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the film, but I think it deserves to be given some careful thought, and not to be simply taken at face value.