Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 640
Architruc, the narrator. He is king of Fantoine and Agapa. He describes himself as fat, with varicose veins, a flat head, pimples, sandy-colored hair, a nose like a potato, and cauliflower ears. When Architruc is fifteen years old, his father is killed in a revolt, and his mother assumes the regency until the youth comes of age. He mopes about the palace, delighting only in a garden that he plants with lily of the valley and crowfoot. He falls in love with Baga, who is also the lover of Architruc’s mother; as soon as Architruc becomes king, he names Baga as his prime minister. At first Architruc travels about his kingdom to dispense justice, but eventually he becomes bored with this practice and, like his father, cloisters himself within the palace. For him, each day is identical: He arises at noon, performs a few simple exercises, and examines his collections of pebbles, shells, leaves, eyeglasses, and watches. Then his barber arrives to shave him. Afterward, Architruc waters his plant, Ducky, and sponges its leaves. Dressed in white, the king next appears at lunch, his chief delight, and always eats beef, an omelette, and cheese before he retires to his room once more. War with Novocardia disrupts this pattern. Following his victory, he retires for a century to a hut in the forest. When he returns to the palace, a visit from Queen Conegrund again upsets his routine. While overseeing the construction of a castle in the valley of Rouget, he wanders off to join a small convent and becomes a woman for a time.
Baga, Architruc’s prime minister. Baga appears subservient, bringing Architruc his morning tea and chamber pot, carrying the king’s umbrella, planning the royal menu, and helping the monarch dress. Baga also conducts foreign and economic policy without consulting Architruc, converting his country into the world’s leading exporter of rat pelts and building up an arsenal for eventual war with neighboring Novocardia.
Corniflet, the royal barber and part-time molecatcher. About thirty years old, he has red hair and blue eyes.
Vielle, the royal musicians. The cornetist once had long hair, but now he and the hurdy-gurdy player are both bald. One formerly had worked as overseer in a print shop, the other as a milkboy, but Architruc’s father trained them to their present occupation. Although they are sixty years old, they look eighty. They live in the forest in a one-room house that formerly was a hunting lodge. Each day, the king sends a car to bring them to the palace to play the banquet overture.
Sister Louise, a godly woman who lives on prayer and vegetables. For a time, Architruc shares her house.
Mary, a pretty young woman who joins the convent of Architruc and Sister Louise. She and Architruc sleep together until he recovers his masculinity.
Queen Conegrund, the ruler of Doualia. Fat and red-faced, she wears a red wig and a diamond crown. A voracious eater and lover, she tries to bed Architruc, but she accepts a black dishwasher in his stead. Her visit to Architruc strains the treasury, but her purchase of the dishwasher for a thousand rupees helps replenish the coffers.
Rara, an orphan adopted by Architruc to become his heir. Between ten and twenty years old, Rara is pale, blue-eyed, tall, and frail. He is a voracious reader.
King Gnar, a cave dweller who receives the letters that Architruc writes while living in the forest. Gnar may be the real power behind the throne: When Gnar tosses a dirty sock in the direction of Architruc’s palace, the king at once decides to open a sock shop. Gnar has a serpent for an adviser.
Mougre, Baga’s predecessor as prime minister.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 452
In the opening lines of the book, long before the narrator reveals his name, he asserts, “I am a king. Yes, a king of myself. Of my stagnation.” These are the same words used by the nameless speaker in Quelqu’un (1965; Someone, 1984). Is he then the same person? Even after he begins to call himself Architruc, the reader can hardly be said to be enlightened, for Monsieur Truc is the French equivalent of Mr. What’s-his-name, so that Architruc is simply King What’s-his-name. Nor does his appellation inspire confidence, when one realizes that “truc” also means trick, making Architruc a master trickster, the archdeceiver.
One cannot even be certain whether Architruc is deceiving the reader or himself. He claims to be writing his memoirs so that his nephews will understand his life and presumably benefit from the account. Yet he adopts Rara, a dishwasher—the same one Conegrund buys?—as his heir, thereby subverting the purpose of his memoirs. He claims that he made Baga his prime minister out of gratitude, and in the course of the book he confers other honors upon him also: He presents Baga with the ribbon of the Order of St. Honore, makes him his cousin, and proclaims him Count of Fidelity. Yet he also seems to distrust this man, stating that he named Baga his prime minister to lure him away from the Queen Mother, with whom Baga was having an affair.
Even more shadowy and enigmatic than Architruc is this prime minister. Is he merely the instrument of the king, the loyal umbrella carrier, or is he the power behind the throne? He knows more about the state of the country’s military preparedness than the king, and he seems to have sought war with Novocardia. When Baga claims that only sixty people died in the war, should one trust his version of events or Architruc’s? If Baga is such a schemer, why does he not take advantage of the king’s lengthy absences to stage a coup? Or did he already engineer the one that put Architruc on the throne?
The identities of the other characters also pose challenges. The king cannot distinguish between his two musicians. In both name and character, Queen Conegrund closely resembles Voltaire’s Cunegonde in Candide: Ou, L’Optimisme (1759; Candide: Or, All for the Best, 1759). Architruc’s nameless father seems to be the king’s double, not only in lack of name but also in behavior. The old king was killed because his subjects tire of his self-indulgent sloth. Significantly, in Pinget’s play based on this novel, Architruc (1961), the title character is killed. Is one therefore reading a dead man’s tale prepared for disinherited heirs?
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 62
Bann, Stephen. “Robert Pinget,” in The London Magazine. IV (October 7, 1964), pp. 22-35.
Cismarie, Alfred. “Robert Pinget: An Introduction,” in American Benedictine Reivew. XIX (June, 1968), pp. 203-210.
Henkels, Robert M., Jr. Robert Pinget: The Novel as Quest, 1979.
Knapp, Bettina, ed. French Novelists Speak Out, 1976.
Mercier, Vivian. The New Novel from Queneau to Pinget, 1971.
Oppenheim, Lois, ed. Three Decades of the French New Novel, 1986.