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Howard Jacobson: No Identikit progressive (©Jillian Edelstein)


The received wisdom is that Donald Trump is beyond satire but Howard Jacobson clearly hasn’t received the memo. His new book Pussy doesn’t mention the name Trump once but the cover illustration is of the President of the United States clad only in a nappy and bearing a Barbie doll under his arm. Just in case we’re in any doubt, the accompanying publicity handout spells it out as “a provocatively entertaining, savagely funny satire on Donald Trump by Britain’s greatest comic novelist”. And Jacobson himself has been happy to give press interviews setting out the anger that inspired him to write this brief but entertaining assault on Trump and the culture that propelled him so unexpectedly into the White House.

You might think that satirising Trump is like shooting fish in a barrel or a rhinoceros in a French zoo but the fact Jacobson has tried his hand at it makes it a more attractive prospect than a work by a more conventionally left-wing author. Jacobson, after all, is no Identikit progressive: he is a staunch defender of Israel and scourge of political correctness, so his views on Trump and Trumpism are worth hearing.

In one interview, he cited as his examples Voltaire and Swift, and certainly the spirit of the latter hovers over every page. The central character is Prince Fracassus, heir to the ruling family of the walled republic of Urbs-Ludus (his older brother Jago is disqualified for being transgender), a “pugnacious, self-involved and boastful child, not much attentive to the world around him and used to getting his own way”. He does not read books, preferring instead to watch television constantly, his language is limited and largely confined to coarse sexual innuendo, and his principal means of communication is Twitter — you get the idea.

His despairing parents assign to him two quietly liberal tutors to groom him for eventual power. They take him on a lengthy tour abroad, during which he meets various foreign leaders who give him the benefit of their advice. The dying leader of Gnossia, Eugenus Phonocrates, tells him: “You ask me are the people stupid. Very far from it. They can smell a fraud a thousand miles away . . . [but] their besetting weakness is that they love a fraudster . . . a joker who wants the worst for them they will follow into hell.”

In neighbouring Cholm, Fracassus is captivated by the foreign minister, Vozzek Spravchik, who becames his political mentor. “Trust the people,” he advises Fracassus. “They don’t make the false divisions intellectuals do.”

After the Grand Duke dies, Fracassus faces a vital election back home. The opposition is led by a youthful progressive, Sojourner (Remainer — geddit?), who coincidentally is the only woman he has ever loved. I won’t spoil the ending, although you can probably guess it.

As you would expect from Jacobson, Pussy is a witty and thought-provoking read, written at speed in two months after last November’s election and none the worse for that. But it seems odd to make Fracassus/Trump the undeserving heir to a political dynasty: that is precisely what Trump is not but which many of his opponents were — Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, for example. And don’t forget the widespread assumption, before her mother self-destructed, that Chelsea Clinton would soon inherit her parents’ mantle, or the clamour for Michelle Obama to stand for high office on the strength of — what exactly? I look forward to Howard Jacobson’s demolition job on them in due course.
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