The characters are no more than sketches, but they are attractive ones. As well as the king, there's the narrator-painter-conspirator Sandoval, a Major forced to assume an uncomfortable informality as the king's companion, the ancient Count only tempted to replace Oliver as king by the power to appropriate a few choice works from the National Gallery for his own delectation, an aging Royal Chief Steward with a penchant for pretty young women, and the con-man St Germain and his accomplices, among them the vivacious Marcelle.
Oliver VII has a fairy-tale ending in which everyone ends up happy. This was perhaps a response to the dark years of the Second World War during which it was written and published — and in which Szerb was to die, beaten to death in a concentration camp in early 1945.
One could attempt to read into Oliver VII something deep about identity and personal fulfilment, but that would be a stretch. It is a slight but charming entertainment.
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