‘Pussy’ Doesn’t Grab! Literary Lion Fails With New Trump Fantasy Satire

  1. Home
  2. Culture Wars
By Jay Strongman | 10:15 am, April 25, 2017

Pussy is the latest novel from English author Howard Jacobson, a former winner of the prestigious British Man Booker Prize. It’s a book which the author says he wrote in a “fury of disbelief” after observing the American Presidential election last November.

The book is a modern day fairy tale with Donald Trump portrayed as the extremely nasty and boorish young Prince of the fictional nation of Grand Duchy. The usual suspects are excited. According to The Guardian, Pussy is an “elegantly savage satire” on the rise of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, while the Washington Post calls the book “hot revenge in print”.

But the hastily released novel—it’s published in the US on May 15 but Heat Street has read a copy—isn’t really any sort of “revenge”. Instead it’s more a literary cry for help—a stricken cri du coeur from a member of the liberal chattering classes who had to watch in shock and horror as first Brexit and then Trump shattered all their safe assumptions on how the globalized world was supposed to work.

Here’s the Amazon description of the novel: “Pussy is the story of Prince Fracassus, heir presumptive to the Duchy of Origen, famed for its golden-gated skyscrapers and casinos, who passes his boyhood watching reality shows on TV, imagining himself to be the Roman Emperor Nero, and fantasizing about hookers. He is idle, boastful, thin-skinned and egotistic; has no manners, no curiosity, no knowledge, no idea and no words in which to express them. Could he, in that case, be the very leader to make the country great again?”

No prizes for guessing that Jacobson’s Prince Fracussus is how he (and almost the entire liberal elite) sees Trump or for guessing that the obnoxious Fracussus, who is elected “Prime Mover” of his nation, has not one single redeeming feature. And, naturally, no fairy story is complete without a cast of outrageous supporting characters.

So we get the former head of UKIP and the architect of Brexit, Nigel Farage, portrayed as the cartoonishly cynical Caleb Hopsack who advises Fracussus on how to pretend to be “one of the people”. We get Russian President Vladimir Putin appearing as the sinister, homophobic Spravchik whom Fracussus adores and has a bromance with (of course). And Hillary Clinton turns up, somewhat strangely, as the hypocritical progressive candidate Sojjourner who Fracussus falls in love with when they first meet.

Just to show how down he is with American politics, Jacobson also throws in a Fracussus-friendly, sycophantic news website called Brightstar based, naturally, on Breitbart, the conservative media bogeyman that torments the liberal echo-chamber.

Admittedly there are clever ideas in Pussy, such as the depiction of the Grand Duchy as a skyscraper-filled 21st Century fusion of the Kingdom of Far Far Away in the Shrek films and the nightmarish Gormenghast castle from writer Mervin Peake’s Titus Groan trilogy. But much of the tale of Fracussus and his rise to power is too clever for its own good and the sheer heavy-handedness of the constant ridiculing of Fracussus /Trump and the crass popular culture from which he springs quickly becomes tedious.

This is the reading equivalent of binge-watching every Saturday Night Live episode since Trump won the election—sure there are one or two comedy moments but after a while the endless, predicable, and one-sided deluge of anti-Trump “jokes” and sketches blurs into one boring snooze-fest.

Jacobson is never content to use one description when several will do. Here he is on repeat regaling us with the moment the spoiled child Fracussus/Trump has to leave his penthouse nursery to begin his schooling:

“Fracassus descended from the roof terrace with its infinity pool….to the classrooms of the lower palace”

“For Fracassus this was a tailspin into darkest hell”

“Like a god toppling from high estate into a fiery lake of devils”.

 There’s similar repetition when the author endlessly reminds the reader that Fraccussus /Trump sees women solely as “pussy”, is an arrogant bully, hates facts and is obsessed with tweeting idiotic half-formed ideas.

Like so many politicized artists, Jacobson compromises his talent in order to indulge in over-the-top ranting against his enemies—the enemy in this case is Trump. And it’s not only Trump who Jacobson directs his artistic venom against, he also can’t resist lashing out at people who didn’t vote for Hillary. During a section when the Trump/Fracussus character looks like he might be sabotaging his own chances of winning the election that is the book’s climax, it turns out that people still won’t vote for the Clinton character (Sojjourner).

“Whatever had softened Fracussus, softened the populace. Not to the point of persuading those who hated Sojjourner to change their minds and vote for her. A change of mind is a rational decision and hatred of Sojjourner had nothing of reason in it. It was fed from wells of poison too deep to fathom.”

You see, those darn anti-Hillary rednecks aren’t capable of making rational decisions because their minds are so filled with misogynist poison that it’s too deep to comprehend.

Sadly, the author doesn’t even try to understand the concerns of those who elected Trump / Fracussus. He blames their vote on their ignorance or their sheer bloody-mindedness. But that’s not surprisingly really, the effects of mass illegal immigration, long term unemployment, opiate addiction and rising crime rates probably aren’t of much concern to the genteel, hors-d’oeuvres munching, cocktail party circuit frequented by  liberal prize winning authors or their literary agents.

Just in case the reader doesn’t get the oh-so-obvious depiction of Prince Fracussus as Trump, the book’s cover is decorated with a caricature of Trump as a grotesque baby, wearing diapers and carrying a naked blonde doll.

Once again subtlety is not this book’s strong point. But I guess this is how most of the liberal arts community is dealing with its grief over President Trump. Jacobson is using his proven ability as a writer (he has written fifteen novels) to try to come to terms with the Trump phenomenon but his bitterness at the political outcome is too deep and obvious for this novel to succeed as a great work of satire.

Shame, because Trump, the entire American political system, and contemporary American culture are all crying out to be torn apart by a truly great non-partisan in a savage work of satirical literature.

Pussy by Howard Jacobson is published May 15

Advertisement