Oliver VII

Antal Szerb

translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix
Pushkin Press 2007 [1942]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2011 https://dannyreviews.com/
A far cry from Szerb's other novels, Oliver VII is a light-hearted romp, never far from slapstick. It centres on the politics of an imaginary Eastern European "Alturia", whose only exports are wine and sardines, and the travails of its king. Deposed in a bloodless coup, Oliver VII sets off to travel the world incognito, seeking to experience a broader life. In Venice, however, a con-man has the idea of having him pretend to be the exiled Oliver VII, in order to deceive foreign business interests, and he ends up impersonating himself...

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.

December 2011

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Related reviews:
- Antal Szerb - Journey by Moonlight
- Antal Szerb - The Pendragon Legend
- more Hungarian literature
- books published by Pushkin Press
%T Oliver VII
%A Szerb, Antal
%M Hungarian
%F Rix, Len
%I Pushkin Press
%D 2007 [1942]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781901285796
%P 207pp