“‘Good evening, London.’ It’s nine o’clock and this is the voice of Fate. It is the fifth of the eleventh, nineteen-ninety-seven… ‘The people of London are advised that the Brixton and Streatham areas are quarantine zones as of today. It is suggested that these areas be avoided for reasons of health and safety… Police raided seventeen homes in the Birmingham area early this morning, uncovering what is believed to be a major terrorist ring… Have a pleasant evening.'”
So begins V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd. Perhaps you’ve heard of its movie adaptation? The film version is actually one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I’ve seen in a while but even so, it lacks that little SOMETHING that was in the book. They cut out a lot of the subplots, in my humble opinion.
Anyway, I didn’t hear about this book because of the 2006 movie. I found it through a wonderful little book called The Ultimate Teen Book Guide… which has never, ever let me down when it comes to finding excellent books.
So I have no idea why I waited so long to try V for Vendetta. It was on my to-read list from the age of twelve, but I only picked it up last fall. Expecting something mildly interesting.
Well, I was blown away by its awesomeness. I LOVED IT, OK? I FREAKING LOVED IT! I’m very stingy with my five-star ratings – I gave out only four last year, and V for Vendetta received the last one. It is my newest bookish love.
And now I’m going to fangirl about it, in the hopes that some (all?) of you will read it and fangirl with me! Because I know only one person who’s read the book (because I recommended it to her – thanks, Mo) and two people who’ve seen the movie and… and I have a habit of cheerily and persistently dragging people down into fandoms along with me.
So, on to the book. What’s it about?
If I had to sum up the plot in one sentence, I’d say it’s about “a destitute orphaned teenage girl who meets a fierce, slightly insane, anarchy-loving masked man, becomes his protégé, and goes on a reign of terror throughout London, complete with lots of explosions.” I mean, there’s so much more to the story, but that’s the gist of it. (And I’ll elaborate below, in a little while.)
V for Vendetta is science fiction – but even better, it’s dystopian fiction. It’s kind of old – it began serialization in the early eighties – and was written for an adult audience, not YA readers.
It’s set in London (and the surrounding countryside), which made me cheer. It’s a welcome change from the endless stories about a ruined America, and I loved how very very British it was, too. Lots of allusions to Guy Fawkes, 1984, Twelfth Night, et cetera.
It’s also a graphic novel. No, scratch that – it’s the best graphic novel I’ve yet read. And I’ve read a lot: Eighty-one in 2014 alone. I love the genre, but have found that such books usually pick and choose between their three main elements – story, writing style, and illustrations. At best, I can hope for a book to succeed with two of those things… I’ve read so many graphic novels where the illustrations overshadowed the plotline, for example.
But I just don’t find that to be the case with V for Vendetta. It has an incredibly unique plot and excellent writing and great illustrations.
The pictures have a film noir-ish style – which, I will admit, took some getting used to. I’m used to more modern graphic novels with bright colors and bold lines! The other thing that took a while to get used to was the tiny font. I ended up appreciating it, however, because it forced me to slow down and take my time with this story.
V for Vendetta is told like a movie, and anyone who says graphic novels don’t require much energy from the reader can just shut their mouth right now. The story is seen through the eyes of multiple characters, during multiple time periods, and often switches POVs with no warning whatsoever. I love stories that do that, that demand a great deal of attention from me if I’m to have any idea of what the hell is going on.
Oh, and one more thing before I move on! The organization of the illustrations was superb, too. The panels are wonderfully varied – my favorite was a short chapter told in the form of a sheet of music. Like, who even thinks of these things?
As for the writing style, well… let’s just say that I’ve read regular books, prose books, that weren’t half as well written. One of the main characters – the titular V – has a lot of monologues. Sometimes he uses as many words beginning with the letter V as he can. Sometimes he speaks in iambic pentameter. And quite often, one of the supporting characters would say something so beautifully-written, so profound, that I would’ve circled and underlined the quote had I not been reading the library’s copy.
I just really love beautiful writing, all right? But that’s not generally something I find in graphic novels. Oh, most of them have good plots, but that’s something separate. I’ve read, like, only four or five quoteworthy graphic novels.
Well, now that I’ve introduced you to the basic facts and fangirled over the mechanics of this novel, don’t you think it’s time for me to fangirl over the story? I won’t give an in-depth summary of the plot, though, because that would be dull. (Not to mention spoiler-y.)
I said above that there was so much more to the story, so here is what else you’ll find.
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot,
I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot…”
It’s about war. It’s about an uneasy post-apocalyptic world. It’s about a horrible government that exerts total control over the media. It’s about fascism. It’s about injustice and concentration camps and a regime that has fought its hardest to “cleanse” the word, to make it “pure,” to eliminate the “other” – non-whites, queer people, and those who don’t follow Christianity.
It’s about gruesome scientific experiments performed on human subjects.
It’s about terror. It’s about desperate people doing desperate things. It’s about sabotage and trickery and anonymity. (Who is V, anyway? You’ll just have to read it and find out.) It’s about anarchy. It’s about one man’s quest for vengeance, and how he will stop at nothing to achieve it. The movie softened V’s personality and made him too likeable, in my opinion. If you’ve watched The Dark Knight, that gives you a pretty good idea of the violence and darkness in this book – only, V isn’t Batman.
V is more like the Joker. Yes, he’s trying to change the world and do some good and right the wrongs, but he will stop at nothing to get there. He’ll kill innocent people and drag others (such as Evey, the teenage girl) into his personal conflicts to help him. Is he a hero? Is he an antihero? I have no idea. He’s very complex, that’s all I know.
“Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us, but within that inch, we are free. It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years, I had roses, and apologized to no one.
I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish. Every inch, but one. An inch, it is small and it is fragile, but it is the only thing the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.
I hope that whoever you are, you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better. But what I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that even though I do not know you, and even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you. I love you. With all my heart, I love you.”
But the story is also about love. And friendship. And living beyond death. And passing on the (metaphorical) torch. V for Vendetta isn’t all dark; there’s some hope in it as well. It’s about endurance.
Oh, hey – that bit about friendship just reminded me that I meant to talk about the lesbians. OK. So. There’s a lesbian couple in this story, and although there wasn’t enough lesbianing to satisfy my friend who read it (sorry, Mo), I thought it was pretty well written. It was only a tiny part of the story, really, but it had such a big effect on the plot.
Like… consider the context. V for Vendetta was written by a straight dude in the eighties, during the height of the AIDS scare. V does what he does – which involves destroying the government and taking down corrupt, bigoted officials – in order to get vengeance for what was done to him, and what was done to a queer woman he knew.
I can’t quite explain why I liked it so much, but this subplot – or maybe it’s the overarching plot? – made me cry. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because fictional guys and fictional lesbians (no, scratch that – real dudes and real lesbians, too) tend not to mix well. Do you have any idea how many stories I’ve read where the dudes were just plain creepy around those women? At the very least they keep hitting on them even after asked to stop; at the very worst, they rape and murder them.
And instead V goes, “Uh-uh, I’m going to BLOW UP BUILDINGS and DESTROY STUFF to back at people for what they did to this woman, because something she told me changed my life and made me fight to keep going.”
God, I’m so conflicted about V. He has a big heart at times, he truly does, but then he shows it by blowing up things and killing people.
This review/fangirlish post is quite long now, so it’s time to wrap it up. I’d just like to say that… V for Vendetta is a BIG story. All my favorite stories are BIG stories. I don’t mean that they’re LONG stories, because not all of them are. What I mean is that they contain a multitude of ideas, so many that I’m amazed their authors could fit them all in.
And more than anything, V for Vendetta is about ideas. “Beneath this mask is more than flesh. Beneath this mask is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof,” V declares towards the end of the book. Maybe the answer to the question of, “Is V a hero or an antihero?” is actually, “Neither. He’s an idea. And very few ideas are entirely right or entirely wrong.” V for Vendetta made me laugh and cry and think a lot. It’s one of the best books I read last year, my new favorite graphic novel, and among the greatest science fiction / dystopian fiction stories I have ever read.
[Pokes you] Go read it. And then we shall fangirl.