The Royal Hunt – by D.R. Popescu
My second book of the year took me back to the Eastern Bloc. My previous encounters were with Kundera, Klima and Hrabal, all of which I enjoyed greatly, partly due to being set in such a period of social and political turmoil. This is an aspect captured as perfectly in The Royal Hunt as it is in the acclaimed Book Of Laughter and Forgetting, both books also share slight admission of magical realism, although not to the extent of Marquez, but still enough to allow for the story to happen without the restrictions of the real world. What The Royal hunt does give us however is a flowing accessible narrative, allowing us to experience clever, often very funny characters and scenarios, whilst also giving a chilling allegory about how fear works within our phycology on an individual, the community, and nationally.
The book is taken from the perspective of a child who himself plays a very minor part in the story, he does however spend a majority of his time walking on enormous stilts. This allows him to report to the viewer most interactions between the townspeople with childlike innocence. The narrative feels like looking through a keyhole, through another keyhole. I say this because firstly we are viewing a small politically isolated town, who receive snippets of the larger political picture, within this town we see a localised shadow of the grand scheme, of which the reader then receives snippets themselves through the narrator. This adds elements of mystery and intrigue, and sets the foggy background to the sinister events. Due to the unbiased narrator the reader can emphasise greatly with the characters of the town, who themselves can be synonymous with multiple counterparts in similar events in world history. The generalised Doctor, Nurse, Gypsy, Professor, and fabled politico can be extrapolated to fit into any of the numerous political turmoils of the 20th century.
So we accept the book has no classical protagonist, yet surprisingly it has the most dangerous antagonist of the modern world, that is even more relevant in today’s media and politics, this hidden enemy is fear itself. The Town is in a constant state of trepidation and like the viral rabies that drives each cynophile to cynocide this fear spreads from man to man, infecting them with the same hysteria and, as rabies drives one from the water they need, the fear keeps each man from the rationalism that would cure them. Popescu realises that mankind has been venerated by this unknown scourge for centuries and places historical fact into his fiction, this makes the novel all the more horrifying when we realize the created witch doctor is practising medicines used throughout history, including the cringe inducing description of the dissection of the “lingual frenulum”, or to those of us without a degree in medieval medicine, cutting the bit under your tongue. In fact the story Popescu executes has its roots deep in real life, both literally when men have committed suicide from the diagnosis of rabies, and figuratively where the popular, or self, opinion of one being infected (an infection in this case being that of political ideology) is of equal measure to the consequences of the practical infection. The fact that Popescu can weave these social, political, and medical worlds together creates a truly enchanting thirst to open the door and go through the keyhole to discover more about the time and influences featured in The Royal Hunt.