29.8.12

G.K. Chesterton - The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Rating 7.2

Unusual and engrossing The Napoleon of Notting Hill kept me company amidst the chaos of Terminal 3 in Heathrow while waiting to embark on the first long distance flight of my life.
My impression is that Mr Chesterton was too much far ahead for his times but didn't care a bit having a good sport in poking fun at defying literary conventions.

This odd little novel could be read in many ways: as a satire of British politics and the frail concept of modern democracy, as a dystopian entertainment or as a book poking fun at those who worshipped heraldry and the Middle Ages as an age of unsurpassed heroism and valour.
If you think about the success gained by works of semi-historical fiction such as Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, it's pretty clear how the clang of armours and the bang of swords into shields had many followers back in the 19th century.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill is an allegory of all that passion for the Middle Ages feuds ridiculing them as a mere clash of snazzy liveries, but also and perhaps foremost a tale about London, an original tribute to its boroughs and its streets soaked up in a very peculiar and very Chestertonian sense of humour.
Even though the events narrated in the novel take place in a future dated 1984, don't look for Newspeak or Rooms 101 here as there is no anticipation of Orwell in Chesterton.

And yet, this novel could have a modern and contemporary interpretation.
In reading about the skirmishes and battles taking place on the edge of Notting Hill I couldn't help but thinking more to the recent London riots and its episodes of urban guerrilla more than to the barricades of the French revolution.
It's just a stroke of luck that no one of the London rioters and looters seemed to have studied Chesteron much: otherwise there would have been massive floodings rather than fires in the August of 2011.

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