Monday 14 April 2014

Oliver VII - Antal Szerb

The second Szerb book I've read this month; this is another of the gorgeously presented translations from Pushkin Press. This is the final novel written by the author and was published under supremely difficult circumstances, despite this it seems to be dismissed as a rather frivolous piece. I think that people would prefer that Szerb stuck to writing dark gloomy works along the lines of maybe Alone in Berlin or maybe Mendelssohn is On the Roof, to reflect his own circumstances as he wrote this. Personally I think it reflects one of the great triumphs of the man as an artist that he was able to write such a charming, light and genuinely comic story while under such strain.
The story reads like one of  Anthony Hope's Ruritanian novels given a gentle comic spin by someone like Oscar Wilde.I can easily imagine the film that could have been made from this novel, it would have starred Alec Guinness as King Oliver and would have been somewhere between 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' and 'The Prince and the Showgirl.' I almost feel the invention of the time machine would be worth the effort just to get the film made correctly!
Although the story is largely set in the crumbling palazzos Venice, a city that was evidently very close to Szerb's heart, it focuses on the King and subjects of Alturia. A central European monarchy that owes it's fortunes to it's trade in Sardines and Wine. Under the  threat of bankruptcy and pressure from big business from the neighbouring Norlandia, King Oliver can see no way to come to an acceptable solution for his country and so decides to orchestrate a revolution, just so he can avoid making an unfavourable decision. He disappears leaving his senile uncle as King of Alturia, and nothing but a trail of rumours in his wake.
As the situation in Alturia worsens one of the erstwhile revolutionaries is dispatched to track him down in Venice. Oliver is living incognito in the city as Oscar, and is learning what it is to be an ordinary person. Trouble only brews when the group of con artists he has fallen in with decide that he is ideal to help with a long con.... all that is necessary is for them to convince the world that Oscar is in fact the exiled king of Alturia Oliver VII...... As Oliver manouvers his way out of trouble he finally learns the responsibilities that come with noble rank, and discovers that there are benefits that come along with the power of his birth. It is a light and farcial story that is an absolute delight to read, I hope that Pushkin can have the same effect of Antal Szerb as they have had on Stfan Zweig because the world needs to read these lovely books.


  1. Interesting... love to read it!

    1. It is really lovely. People really do need to read Antal Szerb he was an amazing writer.