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Howard Jacobson on why he wrote Pussy, a furious dedication to Trump

'I wrote Pussy thinking only of how vexed I would be if I didn't write it'. Man Booker prize winner Howard Jacobson on the 'rush of passion' that drove him to pen his Trump-inspired novella.

"The chief end I propose to myself in all my labours," wrote Jonathan Swift in a letter to Alexander Pope, "is to vex the world rather than divert it."

That's one of those things you say on a particular day and wish you hadn't on another.  The truth about satire is that it's never so effective as when you're vexing and diverting at the same time. Though not necessarily the same people.

I wrote Pussy thinking only of how vexed I would be if I didn't write it. I had no other outlet for the exasperation which had been building up in me since that farrago of bad-faith, misinformation, disingenuousness and dishonour we call Brexit, and which climaxed with the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. 

I'm not looking for sympathy.  I was by no means the only person going out of his mind.  But for nearly 20 years I had written a weekly column for The Independent and so wasn't accustomed to bottling up my feelings. Then The Independent shut up shop [as a print newspaper] and for this most momentous of 12 months I had no fixed abode for my indignation.

I went to bed on 8 November confident that the roof of the world was not going to fall in and woke early the following morning to discover it had. Later that afternoon I started writing Pussy. I'd say 'started writing what came to be called Pussy,' except that it was never likely to be called anything else. Trump had made the word his own. It defined the man for me – an idiot child who doesn't swear well, doesn't womanize with style, boasts of his achievements so inexpertly that even he can't possibly believe in them, and has reached the age of 70 with barely enough words to get to the end of a tweet without repeating himself.

You might think this presented an artistic problem. How do you write a novel about a person for whom there is not a redeeming word to be said and on whom it would be a travesty of pity to expend a grain?  Well, you can't write a novel of realism. I knew at once it had to be a fierce and even ferocious fairy-story, in which a raging indignation was shared by writer and readers alike, and which would be driven by the need to poke around the question of how such inanity had suddenly descended on our universe.  

That a person who is three fifths money and one fifth peevishness (I can't speak for the final fifth but I'm sure it's not libido) should want to rule the world isn't surprising. "Fanatics have their dreams," as Keats wrote, so why shouldn't fools have them too? The mystery (prefigured by the Brexit conundrum) is that so inept and amateur a dreamer should find a single soul  - never mind sixty million - willing to indulge him.  


I knew at once it had to be a fierce and even ferocious fairy-story, in which a raging indignation was shared by writer and readers alike.

 

There, then, would be the fun and challenge of it. Derision – there cannot be too much derision –but underlying it a perplexing question that derision cannot answer. How does such a thing come about? What creates the climate? How do the 'people' – that suddenly cherished entity, invoked by every rogue in Washington and Whitehall – fill the space occupied by nothingness with the ghost of their wish-fulfilment? There the diversion, and there – to those who won't hear a word against the 'people' – the vexation.

I wrote at great speed, not wanting to iron anything out. Haste was part of it. A feeling of impetuosity. An unseemly rush of passion that time and care would have falsified. I felt the thing had to be written in a sort of half-dream before I woke and found that no one had ever heard the name Trump, or Farage. I tried not to leave the house for six weeks. I didn't want to breathe fresh air or glimpse normality; I didn't want to break the trance. The thing became a sort of tortured comedy in which I, the writer, was to be numbered among the absurdities, my tone of voice – high-principled and dead-pan – itself the last vestige of an idea of writing of which Twitter and all the other tools beloved of today's demagogues – for Trump and Tweeting are not incidentally synonymous – are the death knell. In the end it was Pope rather than Swift I could hear.

         "Thy Hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall,

         And universal darkness buries all."

Author Howard Jacobson

More about the author

Pussy

Howard Jacobson

Pussy is the story of Prince Fracassus, heir presumptive to the Duchy of Origen, famed for its golden-gated skyscrapers and casinos, who passes his boyhood watching reality shows on TV, imagining himself to be the Roman Emperor Nero, and fantasizing about hookers. He is idle, boastful, thin-skinned and egotistic; has no manners, no curiosity, no knowledge, no idea and no words in which to express them. Could he, in that case, be the very leader to make the country great again?

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