Prince Fracassus, son of the Duke and Duchess of Origen, grows up in the Republic of Urbs-Ludus. This small republic is famous for its high skyscrapers (which do not even let you see the moon) and for its casinos. The boy hardly has any contact with people outside the palace, most of his time he spends in front of TV where he watches reality shows and history lessons on emperors such as Nero. His teachers try to bring the world to him and especially to enlarge his vocabulary, but this is not very successful. Therefore, they go on a trip, maybe the direct contact with the real world might have an impact on him. In the meantime, the old Duke dies, the republic is slowly crumbling and Fracassus will be the one to save his dukedom.
Howard Jacobson’s novel is a satire which makes you laugh out loud and want to cry at the same time. He did not even try to convey his message very subtly, no, he openly holds the mirror up to the electorate and asks them: What have you done? So far, many have criticised President Trump, this is not very difficult since he provides you with so much to attack every day. This is quickly done. Jacobson, however, has a very elaborate way of confrontation.
First of all, the protagonist’s name. “Fracassus” reminds me of the French adjective fracassant which has two meanings: on the one hand, it comprises the idea of spectacular and surprising, on the other hand, it is destructive like a wrecking ball. Both significances go well with the current POTUS. The dukedom was also provided with a telling name: a very original idea to call it the capital of play. The surroundings of the small prince match somehow the Trump tower and the fact that he is famous for building houses and known due to his TV shows is not that very subtle.
Second, the prince’s attitude towards life and people. Even though he has a very limited vocabulary, he knows many words for women, or to be more precise, for prostitutes – which equals women from his point of view. He’d like to reign like an ancient Roman emperor, feeding underlings to the lions, building walls to keep out the unwanted and destroying any kind of protest with strong and quick police intervention. He wants to fight terrorism even if there is none.
Third, his use of twitter – just hilarious. His electoral campaign and the fight with his female opponent and the sharp analysis of her weaknesses – I have hardly ever had to laugh that much while reading. All this is accompanied by Chris Riddell’s charming and funny illustrations of the prince.
Fracassus’ return to his home country to make it great again on the basis of all that he has learnt – e.g. to lie to the people, so they will never expect the truth from you – it is all very funny to read. Until you realise that this satire of this novel is a reality.