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The Napolean of Notting Hill

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    G. K. Chesterton’s ‘The Napolean of Notting Hill’ was one of those free books that I downloaded in the first enthusiastic flush of having a Kindle. I enjoyed ‘A Man called Thursday’ a while back so decided to give this a go. For me, it didn’t measure up to ‘A Man Called Thursday’ but it has its place in time.

 

    Written in 1904, Chesterton set the book in the future, in 1984. He is reputed to have given George Orwell (Eric Blair) a break by publishing an essay in in his magazine. Most of us are familiar with Orwell’s 1984. Chesterton’s future, though, includes no major technological differences and life on the surface seems very much the same as his own in 1904, but there are political and sociological differences. Chesterton ridicules the politics and philosophies of his time by exaggerating them, showing the absurdity of their extremes.

 

    People have not changed, but in some respects they have given in. Democracy has not been attained and most have given up trying for it. Government is run smoothly by the middle and upper classes without any disruptions from party politics or elections and most of the population are indifferent to it all. The monarchy is no longer hereditary, but a king as still necessary, as a figurehead, to get legislation through. He is chosen randomly from the people.

 

    Life is mostly peaceful, respectable, boring, dull and apathetic and anyone with a little colour to them stands out. Auberon Quin is one of these. He longs to break free and have fun, just to have a laugh. Then, just as he starts to do this, a new king is chosen and life changes for a large part of London, not least a redefining of the place-names.

 

    There are several battles, but, although they are bloody and people die, they are not really gory, they read more like play scripts, including a few Shakespearian-type speeches or campaign notes, dealing with strategy rather than feelings, emotion and pain. There is a map in the book, but it wasn’t very clear on my kindle so I looked it up on computer several times.

 

    Chesterton writes eloquently and his prose flows making the reading a pleasure. I enjoyed the humour and I liked the absurdity of the whole thing. In the past I have read that he wrote in paradoxes and I have also read that that statement belittles Chesterton’s thinking. I haven’t studied him enough to know, but I did find that he set me thinking in paradoxes. For example, I usually hold that I don’t support patriotism or regionalism and nationalism on the grounds that they foster arguments and wars and indeed we see a microcosm of this in the book, but then I do support free thinking and free speech and if that had to be sacrificed to get peace. Would I be looking for new colour in the grey world?

 

    Interestingly there are no women as main characters in the book.

 

    Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ acknowledges Chesterton as an influence by opening with a quotation from ‘The Napolean of Notting Hill’. He too has a London shaped by place-names and gives a social comment of his own.

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