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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Dictator and the Hammock

Daniel Pennac

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To purchase The Dictator and the Hammock

Title: The Dictator and the Hammock
Author: Daniel Pennac
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 276 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Dictator and the Hammock - US
The Dictator and the Hammock - UK
The Dictator and the Hammock - Canada
Le dictateur et le hamac - Canada
The Dictator and the Hammock - India
Le dictateur et le hamac - France
Der Diktator und die Hängematte - Deutschland
Ecco la storia - Italia
El dictador y la hamaca - España
  • French title: Le dictateur et le hamac
  • Translated by Patricia Clancy

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Our Assessment:

B : amusing if tangled play of doubles and story-telling

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 2/9/2006 Alberto Manguel
New Statesman . 31/7/2006 Daniel Trilling
The Telegraph . 3/9/2006 Carol Ann Duffy
TLS A- 28/7/2006 M.John Harrison

  From the Reviews:
  • "Tricked at every turn, led to believe one thing and then told otherwise, lured into thinking that one story, and then the next, and then the next, is the definitive one, they must hold firm and keep the course steady so as not to be thrown overboard before reaching the end. If they do, they will not be disappointed." - Alberto Manguel, The Guardian

  • "In the hands of a lesser writer, The Dictator and the Hammock might descend into a self-reflexive mess, but Pennac's eye for detail makes this a darkly comic meditation on life, death and the illusions of power." - Daniel Trilling, New Statesman

  • "(A) quirky and increasingly irritating tale. (...) Because the book has so inexorably become a story about writing a story, it manages only, in the end, a whimsical self-regard which subverts its own wish to entertain" - Carol Ann Duffy, The Telegraph

  • "There is certainly no need for suspense. The entertainment rarely flags. The consequences of the dictatorís abdication (or rather the assumption about the nature of similarity on which it is based) never stop spinning off. Sardonic observations decorate every page. The wealth of subsidiary narratives -- all the impeccably crafted anecdotes and myths and allegories, stories large and small -- generated by Pereiraís decision, and Pennacís decision to write about it, nest and renest inside one another to produce a sophisticated reading experience and suggest a writer whose political view is amused and tart. They are so good, these stories, and so intelligently amusing, and they arrive so frequently, that we never have time to think of asking for more." - M.John Harrison, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The first of the seven parts of The Dictator and the Hammock is a fairly complete story in and of itself, and even concludes with the words: "That's the story that should have been told from". It is told, but it's far from Pennac's whole story -- and even in telling it he is careful to constantly remind readers that it is potential and partial, a possible story but then not Pennac's complete one. So also, from the first sentence, Pennac allows that this is hypothetical, a story-plan rather than (just) a complete tale:

     It would be the story of an agoraphobic dictator.
       Indeed, the story is first sketched out around its dictator-protagonist, with the conclusion that:
But, like any man who is interesting enough to be written about, he wanted to escape his fate. And the whole story of Pereira is about that that attempt.
     That would be the story worth telling.
       That story's premise is amusing: Pereira is a young man whose two ambitions are: "power and being elsewhere". He grabs power at a young age, killing the president of his (fictional) Latin American homeland and then taking his place. A witch prophesies that he will be killed by a crowd, which triggers the agoraphobia the thereafter haunts him; to play it safe, he enlists a double as a stand-in for his public appearances. Eventually, he decides to travel -- and live it up -- abroad, his double taking his boring place for the duration. No one is the wiser, but his double also eventually wants to move on, and hires a double in turn -- a sequence that continues until the original returns, with the expected consequences .....
       From this story Pennac spins other stories, including that of the first double, who discovers the magic of movies and sets off for America and Hollywood. He becomes a doubled double, mistaken for Charlie Chaplin, and then a double cubed, mistaken for Rudolph Valentino (passing himself off as Charlie Chaplin); eventually, he even comes across the real Chaplin and Valentino -- and, for a while, works as an actual movie-double .....
       But Pennac also comes to the fore himself, the writer at work, acknowledging not only what he is doing but describing the circumstances that led him to it, beginning with time spent in Brazil around 1980, lounging in a hammock some of that time. As becomes very clear, The Dictator and the Hammock is a fiction about story-telling that considers what goes into and can be done with a story from every side -- while also telling some good tales along the way, by way of both example and digression.
       Chaplin's film, The Great Dictator is the dominant background work here, from its original to its present-day role (where Pennac watches and deliberates on it). Naturally, the role of the barber -- also played by Chaplin, and a double of dictator Adenoid Hynkel -- is of particular interest.
       Through the seven stages of his novel -- ending with a short section on: 'The Question of Acknowledgements' -- Pennac repeatedly turns to the (variations on the) telling, rather than just the story (or stories). So also he has another inspiring acquaintance(-cum-character) needle him about his Russian-doll construction:
     Your story of the doubles ! How does one end a novel like that ? I'd really like to know ! You don't really mean to leave us high and dry after the death of the first double, do you ? And the second ? What about the second ? And the others ? How many were there again ?
       In some of his commentary, Pennac even ascribes a larger-than-life(like) role to his creations:
     Here's another feature of characters: each one of you is a snowball rolling down the incline of the author. Your ball is formed as much from what happens to us by chance as from our quiet meditation and reflection, and you pick up everything on your path that can give you meaning.
       His story-telling here, in which he describes some of that which happened to him by chance along the way, is offered as confirmation.
       If his doubles-stories get a bit tangled, they and the accompanying and supporting digressions do make for good and often quite clever entertainment. It's an oddly progressing story -- fitfully, even as it sticks to a fundamental theme -- but enjoyable.
       And Pennac has some nice thoughts, whether on self, doubles, and identity, or on what the writer does -- including the nice observation:
     Writers write to be rid of themselves, but also to be read. There's no way of escaping this contradiction. It's as if one were drowning and shouting, 'Look, Mummy, I'm swimming !'
       Quite good fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 February 2018

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The Dictator and the Hammock: Reviews: Daniel Pennac: Other books by Daniel Pennac under review: Other books under review of interest:

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About the Author:

       French author Daniel Pennac was born in Casablanca in 1944.

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© 2018 the complete review

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