Friday, 29 June 2012

The Short Reign of Pippin IV by John Steinbeck (3/5)

The back says: The Short Reign of Pippin IV displays a wonderful new vain of Steinbeck’s genius. It is the madcap story of a little Frenchman who did not want to be king; of his film-mad and bosomy daughter Clotilde; and of his chief adviser – a wise nun who learned about life as a nude in the Folies Bergere.

I say: The French governments want to give the Communists a monarchy to revolt against, so they chose Pippin to be king, as he is rumoured to be from a royal family. Pippin agrees against his will, but is displeased at the lack of privacy. He dresses up as a plebeian and goes around making enquiries about what the people think of the king. All according to plan, Pippin is eventually dethroned and goes back to the life he previously lead.

As far as satire goes, I suppose this would suffice; but I really didn’t find it to be particularly humorous or really all that clever, to be completely honest. There were a few witticism sprinkled throughout, but most of the jabs at the French (and other nations as well) felt rather puerile. All of the characters were exaggerated to a point of sheer folly, and the only ones I enjoyed were Pippin (at times) and his uncle, Charles Martel.

In fact, Marcel trying to sell off his fake paintings to unsuspecting tourists was the only amusing part.

Nevertheless, I like Steinbeck. He has a distinct way of describing the essence of people and of human emotions, which I have to say I missed in this. Granted, this is the first satire, or even humorous novel I’ve read by him, so perhaps I should stick to his more serious works.

Having said that, satire is based on some form of truth and there were a few quotes in the novel that made me think.

“It is the tendency of human beings to distrust good fortune. In evil times we are too busy protecting ourselves. We are equipped for this. The one thing our species is helpless against is good fortune. It first puzzles, then frightens, then angers, and finally destroys us.” - p 108

This is a quote that I could discuss for hours, so I am not even going to start. It was just to illustrate that even though I wasn’t too impressed with this novel, it did have its highlights.

*This is my sixth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my 100 Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

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