The King is bored, weighed down by his vast military cloak and all the other impediments to commonplace adventure. So he organises a coup against himself, and abandons his ancient throne. But what should one whose only experience is that of an absolute ruler do with himself? Why, become a con-man of course! So he decides to impersonate himself, pass himself off as the ex-king Oliver VII. All of this leads to one of the oldest sources of comedy, the total inversion of identity, the piling up of paradoxes according to the fashion of the times. A playful reworking of one of the most interesting questions of existentialism: what is the Self? Szerb offered this book as a translation from a non-existent English writer, A H Redcliff...Typical Szerb humor, or a reflection of the fact that as a 'rootless cosmopolitan' his own work was banned? Under the increasing persecution of the Nazi regime, Szerb was stopped from teaching at Szeged University in 1943.
Antal Szerb was born in 1901 into a cultivated Budapest family. He obtained a doctorate in German and English Literature and was a prolific scholar, writing numerous books on drama, poetry and literary history, including the still-influential "History of World Literature" (1941). His first novel, "The Pendragon Legend", published in 1934, is set in London and Wales. "Journey by Moonlight" appeared in 1937, followed in 1942 by "Oliver VII" and "The Queen's Necklace". Szerb died in the forced-labour camp at Balf in January 1945.
"A writer of immense subtlety and generosity, with an uncommonly light touch which masks its own artistry. His novels transform farce into poetry, comic melancholy into a kind of self- effacing grace ... Antal Szerb is one of the great European writers" Ali Smith
"Szerb is a master novelist, a comedian whose powers transcend time and language, and a playful, sophisticated intellect" Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian