The Princess, the King, and the Anarchist by Robert Pagani follows the three characters in the title during a royal marriage turned violent. The novella is based on the assassination attempt of Spanish King Alfonso XIII and Victoria Eugenia on their wedding day in 1906, winding its way through the thoughts of the three main characters to portray the events leading up to the wedding day. The young, naive British Princess Mary Eugenia Victoria spends the entire novella first having to pee during the procession to the palace and then worrying about her wedding night because she has no understanding of basic human biology. The King Alfonso XIII is preoccupied by an insistent erection while he points out different buildings in Madrid as they move slowly to the palace. In the days leading up to the bombing the bitter and depressed anarchist, Fernando, wanders around Madrid cold and hungry.
The novella is intended to be a snapshot into the royal lifestyle but is so simplistic that it comes off as forced and unrealistic. Even though the Princess has blood all over her dress and sees bowels oozing at her feet, she feels a little bit nauseous but quickly recovers. The King is practically grateful for the disaster because he can cancel the planned dance and can get down to business with the princess. The whole thing is so improbable, which in itself is not so problematic but when combined with the bizarre sexual subtext of the novella, just does not add up.
One would hope that adding a little sex into an otherwise benign and somewhat pointless plot would help this book out, but alas, it does not. The princess spends the entire novella trying to piece together the small bits and pieces she has heard about sex to figure out what exactly she is in for that evening. She remembers what a few of her cousins had told her:
Emily had specified: like a medium-sized carrot. And the orifice was so narrow! It got bigger: the flesh down there was unbelievably expandable. “Do you realize, Mary, how expandable in order for an eight-pound baby to go through?” But even so, a large carrot is hard to believe. Wouldn’t shorter and skinnier have been better? Did the seed need that kind of bulk to pass? Or rather, did God want women to suffer? But why? What had she done to deserve such punishment?
And if that does not satisfy your crazing for perplexing sexual references, the King continually frets about when he will get his much anticipated “release.” Here the King visits the queasy princess in her quarters as she gets ready to come down to the celebratory dinner that “evening”:
The word “evening” renewed his stiffness. His rod, an erect mast in the middle of his body, is ebony, steel. What will he do if nothing changes? What if, stubbornly, it has decided to keep this sign of hardness until consummation?
“I leave you now, Mary Eugenia, and shall return in ten minutes. I will give the order to delay the first course a quarter of an hour.”
He exits, climbs the staircase, and reaches his private quarters. He feels around the erect baobab of his pubis, an intense, painful tingling. What will happen this evening if she has not recovered, if she wants to see the doctor or has a fever? What if she goes to sleep and doesn’t wake up until morning, then what will he do? Watch over her, as taut as a bow with an arrow ready to fly?
Seriously, “erect baobab of his pubis”? Really? There are times when this novella reads like an early twentieth-century harlequin. And not in a good way.
The princess’s neurotic interior monologue is annoying and the king is a sleazy narcissist who can think of nothing else but sealing the deal with his new wife. By default, the anarchist is the most likeable character in the novel and his portrayal is highly simplistic. For example, he has planned every detail of the bombing but readers are supposed to believe he has no escape plan? Unlikely. Where the story really goes off the deep end is when the princess and the anarchist, both of whom have snuck into the royal garden, have sex in a shed. There is no explanation, context or emotions expressed about this loss of virginity right before going to bed with her husband for the first time.
The Princess, the King, and the Anarchist, released by Helen Marx Books and translated by Helen Marx, is a fluffy and baffling novella.
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