The Atlantic

Pussy, the First Trump-Era Novel, Is a Brutal Satire

The author Howard Jacobson, whose new book is a fairy tale inspired by the 45th president, calls writers to arms.
Source: Vintage

For the British author Howard Jacobson, there was only one word that would function as the title of his newest book, a fantastical satire about a truculent, egomaniacal, moronic, and entirely charmless child who ascends to a position of enormous power. Pussy is the story of Fracassus, the second child and heir apparent to the “walled Republic of Urbs-Ludus.” His father, the Grand Duke, is one of the winners of a political hierarchy in which developers occupy the highest ranks of society, their towering skyscrapers obliterating daylight for the masses who live at ground level. Over the course of the book, Fracassus’s parents and tutors attempt to groom him for adulthood, despite the fact that he’s virulently opposed to learning anything new, and convinced of his own perfection.

Jacobson began work on Pussy, a distinctly Swiftian kind of parody, within mere hours of the news that Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States. In the wake of Brexit, Jacobson had been brooding over the idea of writing about the failures of democracy, and such a decisive victory for populism in the U.S. compelled him to write what he describes as “an odd little fable” digesting the news. What alarmed him the most about Trump, Jacobson says, wasn’t even Trump himself, but how determined so many people were to see greatness and virtue in him. “It’s the mystery,” he says, “of how people are able to see something when there’s nothing there.”

Jacobson won the Man Booker Prize in 2010 for his novel The Finkler Question, about a radio producer who becomes obsessed with wanting to be Jewish. His most recent book before Pussy was 2016’s Shylock Is My Name, a modern retelling of The Merchant of Venice. He lives in London and spoke with me

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic4 min read
Charli XCX Is Probably Not the Future of Pop, and That’s Okay
The songwriter’s cybernetic new album, Charli, is a complement to the mainstream, not an invasion of it.
The Atlantic3 min read
Daniel Johnston, the Folk Poet of Devil Town
While the songs of the influential musician, who died at 58, will endure, it’s hard to say that he was properly appreciated in his time.
The Atlantic8 min readPolitics
Hollywood’s Great Leap Backward
Beijing moves to co-opt the American film industry as it seeks to penetrate the world’s largest market.