President pelted with words

David Herman enjoys a dark satire written quickly in response to Trump's election


Howard Jacobson has never been so prolific. Pussy is his third book in less than a year, following one of his best novels, Shylock is My Name, and a recent book of articles, The Dog’s Last Walk. Whatever he has for breakfast, I want some.

What immediately stands out is how different this is from most of Jacobson’s fiction. This is all-out political satire, a punchy attack on President Trump. Not a single Manchester Jew or middle-aged melancholic in sight.

Pussy tells the story of Fracassus, the grotesquely spoiled son of the Grand Duke and Duchess of the Duchy of Origen. Despite the best efforts of his two tutors, Professor Probrius and Dr. Cobalt, Fracassus becomes an increasingly foul-mouthed, misogynistic megalomaniac, who finds it difficult to tell the difference between truth and lies. “Whatever was combative and divisive he liked; whatever was discursive and considered he didn’t. Whatever demeaned, amused him; whatever ennobled, roused his ire.”

Sound familiar? Fracassus is Trump, red in tooth and claw, and Pussy tells the story of his rise from spoilt brat to reality TV star and elected ruler.

All the familiar features of Trump are here. The yellow hair, the profanities, the slogans (“Lock her up!”) and, of course, the much-criticised relation to women. “He groped secretaries and grabbed cleaning staff… She [the Palace sommelier] told him she didn’t think she liked being grabbed between the legs. Yeah you do, he said.”

Fracassus is a Nero for our times. Monstrous. Larger than life. Jacobson captures him with some excellent turns of phrase. “‘He has, Your Highness,’ the physician reported, ‘what I’d call Tourette’s, only without the Tourette’s.’”

How could such a person get elected as ruler? How could the people not see through the bullying tweets and misogyny? This brings us to the most interesting part of the novel. “Without,” his mother says, “meaning to imply that the people are deficient in understanding…” Of course, Jacobson is only too happy to imply just this.

Trump is a leader for our times, the product of a vulgar, ill-educated society. The Prologue is called The March of Ignorance. The epigraph is from Swift.

Another ruler tells Fracassus, that the people “love a fraudster. If someone who wants the best for the people lets them down, they will never forgive him. But a joker who wants the worst for them they will follow into hell…”

As the book reaches its climax, Professor Probrius looks on in dismay: “I did long ago predict that those who tell the stories run the world.”

“What stories,” asks Dr. Cobalt. “He doesn’t have anything to tell.”

“My love, that is the story.”

And that is the moral of Howard Jacobson’s dark tale.

David Herman is the JC’s chief fiction reviewer

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