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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The King of Fools

Frédéric Dard

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To purchase The King of Fools

Title: The King of Fools
Author: Frédéric Dard
Genre: Novel
Written: 1962 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 154 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The King of Fools - US
The King of Fools - UK
The King of Fools - Canada
La pelouse - Canada
La pelouse - France
  • French title: La pelouse
  • Translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie

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Our Assessment:

B : perhaps too implausible, but good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The King of Fools is narrated by Jean-Marie Valaise, a sales representative for office adding machines for an American firm in Europe, and it begins with him idling on the Côte d'Azur. It was meant to be a getaway with longtime girlfriend Denise, with whom he has been together for six year, but they had had a spat and -- as was their routine, once or twice a year -- split up, with Valaise deciding nevertheless to go it alone down south, rather than cancelling the trip. But he's not enjoying it all that much -- and admits:

I experienced a feeling of intense disenchantment that left me weak and vulnerable.
       Ripe for the picking, in other words .....
       The novel opens with him taken aback to see a woman get in his car -- but it's apparently a harmless mistake, an English tourist, Marjorie Faulks, who drives a near-identical white MG, just absent-mindedly getting in the wrong vehicle. They laugh it off, and the woman leaves in her car -- but their paths cross again.
       Valaise finds himself smitten, incredibly drawn to this woman who remains just out of reach -- she's married, with a suspicious husband. She seems to elude Valaise -- but lets him know that she's going to Edinburgh, and will be there alone for a while before her husband joins her. And even though Denise comes to join in him on what had been meant to be their holiday together, Valaise can't get Marjorie out of his mind.
       Leaving Denise more or less on the beach, the fool travels to Edinburgh. He works himself up into quite the passionate frenzy -- more so because Marjorie isn't easy to find, at first. Worse, her terribly jealous and controlling husband is with her -- and knows what's been going on behind his back (which, truth be told, isn't very much -- yet).
       Just when Marjorie and Valaise find a few moments to be close and discuss a possible future it comes to a horrible confrontation with her husband. Valaise finds himself in a terrible predicament -- and he seems to be digging himself deeper and deeper, finding unexpected obstacles (but also opportunities) in trying to salvage himself -- and the woman he is certain he is meant to be with.
       A general transport strike, paralyzing all of Britain, adds to a sense of claustrophobia and inescapability, and in his desperation Valaise acts rashly; among other things, he is no criminal mastermind (not that he ever really wanted to be one, or be put in a position to think of himself as one). As even he realizes, in taking one of his more preposterous steps:
It was an insane plan, but since the beginning of this whole business I had followed the path of madness at every turn.
       The police have him in their sights -- and in their hands -- soon enough; amusingly, this only complicates matters for Valaise. In making a clean breast of things he thinks he can at least clear things up and accept the consequence of his actions -- but instead he finds his situation even worse, as his account of the events as they happened don't tally with the facts the police have.
       Readers will have suspected, long before it dawns on Valaise, that there's more to Marjorie and her interest him than it seemed at first. Some of Dard's twists are a bit obvious -- and some are rather unrealistic -- but they're certainly entertaining enough. It is the two women, Marjorie and Denise, who recognize Valaise's weaknesses -- he easily proves himself king of the fools, both gullible and malleable -- and act accordingly -- luckily for him, in the case of Denise, who doesn't protest about him going off on his little adventure (that turns into rather a different sort of adventure) and ultimately even manages to help save him from himself.
       If the plot is occasionally strained, it's still agreeably warped and twisted. What really makes the book a worthwhile and enjoyable read, however, is Valaise's voice, in its boredom, desperation, and passion, a man who thinks he's more of a man of the world than he actually is seeing himself cut down to size (and not quite wanting to believe it).
       An almost off-hand, casual little thriller, with a rather too far-fetched plot in some of the essentials, The King of Fools is grounded well enough in character (even as the narrator goes rather off his head ...) to make for a fine, even impressive, lite read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 May 2017

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The King of Fools: Reviews: Frédéric Dard: Other books by Frédéric Dard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Frédéric Dard (1921-2000) is best known for his 'San-Antonio' novels.

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