Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

All this confusion reflects the central concern of the book. Architruc’s real audience is himself; he writes to learn exactly who he is. More accurately, he is trying to decide what role he wants to play. Baga tells him, “There’s no ‘life.’ There’s you. Your life. It’s what you do, what you have done.” Since reality is subjective, Architruc can shape his existence as he wishes. He can be hermit or nun, reigning monarch or deposed ruler. To write is to create a world; by changing the text, one can re-create existence.

Motivation is no clearer than identity in Robert Pinget’s world. Just as Architruc tries to decide who he is, so, too, he seeks to understand why he behaves as he does. Is his choice of Baga as prime minister foolish impulse or shrewd policy? Does he want to live in a gaudy castle that dominates its surroundings or in a hut beside a spring? Does he want Mary to join the convent to rescue her from sensuality or to sleep with her?

At the center of the book, in the sixth chapter of eleven, Pinget casts even greater doubt on Architruc’s ability to understand why he behaves as he does, and, by extension, on anyone else’s capacity for self-knowledge. Here King Gnar converses with his adviser, a serpent, who says he made Architruc decide to leave the forest. Since Architruc is now bored, Gnar and the serpent agree to provide him with an occupation. Gnar therefore pulls a sock from the snake’s bag and tosses it in the direction of the palace. The next morning Architruc tells Baga, “We’re going to establish a sock store.” Does some mysterious power control Architruc? Does Baga? Is Architruc king of himself, as he claims? Baga is a book of questions, fascinating because they have so many answers, or maybe none at all.