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Three To See The King (2002)

Three to See the King (2002)
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Rating
3.7 of 5 Votes: 4
ISBN
0312306105 (ISBN13: 9780312306106)
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English
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picador
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Three To See The King (2002)
Three To See The King (2002)

About book: I read Restraint of Beasts some time last year, and I appreciated it much more than I had All Quiet on the Orient Express, which I’d read about 10 years ago. Both of these previous Mills books were very funny, and I recall that each began with a simple first-person narrative, each beginning with in a simple matter of fact way, then things happened...That formula is essentially what occurs in Three to See the King. The premise is not grounded in any known reality, but the way events develop, especially in the first half of this short novel, seem logical, if not inevitable, and there is always some additional aggravation or complexity that comes of the development, which in itself is comic. Restraint of Beasts became frightening at the conclusion, as things somehow got out of hand, but in this novel, all ends up being restored to a quiet sanity.The unnamed narrator initially is living on a desolate plane in a tin house that he found one day when searching for a canyon in which to live. He found the house suitable and gave up the quest for a canyon, and he learned contentment in simple tasks that have to with maintaining the house in the harsh windy environment where it’s situated. He seldom has visitors, though scattered around him are at least three other tin houses, each a mile or more away from him. These other tin-house dwellers sometimes visit, but their conversations are desultory and the status quo of quiet appreciation of the solitary life is quickly restored upon their departure.This all changes with the appearance of a female acquaintance, Marie Petrie, who moves in with the narrator. In a real world, there’d be some to do about how this arrangement came to be, but in the world of Magnus Mills, things just naturally progress to some settled state very quickly, and it’s the case here that Marie simply moves in, he wonders a little about it, but quickly comes to accept that his life has changed, and it’s no longer quite as pleasant as it had been in some instances, though he does enjoy sleeping with her. It’s a comfortable tit for tat. Mills does a good job of illustrating the comic dimensions of that tit for tat in the make-believe world of tin houses in sandy windy plains.The “neighbors” start appearing more often, and yearnings are expressed, which in the Mills universe are signals that things are going to get unnecessarily complicated. The other three end up breaking down their tin houses and relocating them several miles away, where the most outflung of the tin houses is located, dwelt in by charismatic Michael Hawkins. Several months pass when the narrator and Marie begin to notice people in the distance, ambling vaguely west, where Hawkins lives. The number of these distant marchers on the horizon increases, and then one day all three of the narrator’s former neighbors return, asking if he won’t join them in the canyon they are building with Hawkins’ guidance and his many new acolytes (_not_ Mills' word). He declines going back with them, but some weeks later he marches off, noting in the long trek the several lone paths converging in the larger single track that apparently leads to Hawkins and his canyon. The narrator arrives at a camp of several hundred tin houses, all nearly identical to the one he himself lives in. The camp is located near the canyon where people are working in three- and four-day shifts to expand and clear it for the construction of more tin houses. The narrator finally meets Hawkins, feels himself fall under his sway, understands that the man has the ability to bring all these hundreds of people in line with his manner and vision of a canyon filled with homes.However, when Hawkins one day declares that the canyon will only house brick homes and not tin ones, murmurs arise, which in a very short time grow into active dissension, especially as Hawkins makes it clear that he will not compromise with a canyon community that has both brick and tin homes. The narrator saves Hawkins from the mob by diverting them with the destruction of Hawkin’s tin house, then the mob comes to him (not Hawkins) for guidance, and the narrator tells them to take the tin of their demolished homes (which they’d tried and failed to move into the canyon) and throw it into the canyon and go back to whence they’d come. They do and he returns to his idyllic life, living again in his tin home on the windy sandy plain, apparently alone. The last third of the novel is about the canyon and Hawkins and his followers, and this is difficult ground to cover with the same sort of deadpan comic inevitability that characterizes the preceding two thirds. There are some clever elisions about Hawkins’ behavior, hints that he may be having dalliances with one then another of the female “acolytes,” which is a very typical Mills strategy, to suggest and nudge things along, without filling in all of the details. This works well in this third of the novel, not just as comedy, but as parable, a riffing on a style and subject that suits Mills’ strengths. While Mills makes it clear that there is some mysterious charisma about Hawkins, he doesn’t dwell on this, nor does he dwell long on how people seem drawn to the narrator too, how at the end, it is the narrator’s proximity to Hawkins that gives him enough cachet to make the final pronouncement about dispersing. This comic description of a messianic movement is itself humorous and seemingly realistic, but it’s maybe too big a “theme” (if such really exist in Mills’ universe) for this light-hearted approach.A very funny book! I look forward to another of his, which I have at hand: The Maintenance of Headway.

I often have difficulty separating the book from the circumstances under which I read it. I read this while I was taking care of my father after his prostate surgery. His catheter got clogged, causing intense pain. He wasn’t able to climb into his own truck, a giant throaty Chevy, so I screamed on the front lawn until the neighbors came out, and one gave me his car to transport my father to the hospital. I threw him in the back seat and drove at high speeds across miles of country highway to the hospital in the nearest city. The procedure to unclog the catheter took only a minute or two, but the procedure to establish that my father’s insurance would pay took hours, and my father was visibly shaken from the speed and pain and hospital lights and health professionals in his underpants. During which I was glad to have Magnus Mills’ book miraculously appear in my bag. I read it out loud to him, and he flushed at some of the naughty bits. The simplicity of the story, its easy language and strong imagery, helped my father’s heart rate come down.
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Reviews
Robert J Burdock
I first came across the author Magnus Mills when a lot of people were evangalising his novel - The Restraint of Beasts. Although I’ve still to add that title to my collection, I had the opportunity to pick up Three to See the King, so I could at least get a taste of Mills as a writer. I’m glad I did because Three to See the King is a nice little story and one that will stay wholly memorable with me for years to come.Three to See the King is a fable told in first-person perspective. It’s about a man (the narrator) who lives alone in a little tin house, on a barren, sand-covered desolate landscape. He has neighbours who also live in tin houses but each lives some miles apart, and they rarely see one another. The man’s life begins to change when a partially known woman Mary Petrie comes to live with him. His strict routine changes and he begins to settle into a life of cohabiting and companionship. At this time he also begins customising his tin house a little more, and interacting to a greater effort with his neighbours. Soon his neighbours begin evangelising about another neighbour, one that lives further out to the east - the enigmatic Michael Hawkins, a man who seems both charismatic and ambitious. As time passes the neighbours show a desire to move closer to Michael, and try to urge the unnamed narrator, and his lady-friend to do the same.I really liked this story. It’s simple in its prose but deep in its meaning. I read this as one of my titles for this year’s 24 Read-a-Thon and found it really readable. As it’s a fable it’s a little strange in parts and from the start you question the story because in many ways it defies logic - Why on earth is the man living on his own in such a desolate place? How did he get there? How does he sustain himself? The fact is none of these questions matter. What does matter are the moralistic lessons that the story teaches you; lessons that aren’t fully learned until the end, but it’s well worth sticking with the story, although you shouldn’t find that too difficult a job.I Like how Mills writes. He writes simply; to the point, with no sense of pretentious narrative. His description of setting and character is well handled, and reading Three to See the King is akin to listening to a traditional story-teller narrating a traditional story. I’m sure Mills’ award-winning Restraint of Beasts will usually be perceived as the better novel but this novel, on its own merit, is an accomplished title and should not be missed.Favourite Quote: “In the morning I overslept. When finally I awoke the first thing I heard was Simon clumping around on the roof. Mary Petrie had risen before me and stood tending the stove.‘How come you’re up so early?” I asked.‘I thought I’d make the pair of you some coffee.’‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘What’s he doing up there?’‘He’s seeing if there’s anywhere to put a flagpole.’‘I don’t want a flagpole!’‘He seems to think you do.’‘Well, I don’t!’I got up and went outside just as Simon came clambering down.Favourite Scene: The narrator’s closest neighbour Simon Painter decides to move his house and the narrator, mad at his neighbours increasing infatuation with Michael Hawkins, decides not to help Simon move but rather to take over a basket of provisions every day for Simon and the two neighbours that are helping him move. It’s a scene I realy like; not least because it’s compassionate and neighbourly.What this novel has taught me about writing: Don’t just write to entertain. Be moralistic, put in a few ‘life lessons’ and give the reader something more to take away with them
Anwen Hayward
This book was an obvious allegory, yet I found that I was nowhere near interested enough to try and work out what the allegory might be. Religion, maybe? The hive mind of society? The prevailing importance of adhering to social hegemonic values? Who knows? Everything in it is clearly carefully designed to be a symbol for something else, or a metonym, but I just wasn't invested enough in the story to be bothered to decode them. This is a short book. Some thinly crafted characters do some random things for no real reason. There is a vague sense of events moving from A to B to C to some half-hearted resolution, somehow both anti-climactic and entirely unexpected; the entire latter half of the book seemed to be leading up to a more interesting climax, only to falter and fall flat in the very last sentence. It somehow manages to be a book that is neither plot-heavy nor a character study. The protagonist remains unnamed throughout, which is a device that can work if they are fleshed out in other means, such as having an actual personality. Other characters are always referred to by their full names, first and last, which again is an interesting technique that would have worked if they had ever been more than their names. Instead, they were just cardboard cut-outs, archetypes that moved across the plains of the book (literally, I am not just being poetic here) with no real motivation or characterisation. For all intents and purposes, this book was marketed as a philosophical comedy, but there was precious little philosophy in it, and even less comedy. The author seems to think that punctuating every tenth sentence or so with an exclamation mark turns it into a punchline, without appearing to realise that a punchline usually follows a comedic remark of sorts. There was even an instance of my least favourite grammatical entity - the double exclamation mark. There was really no going back from that point for me. It struck me as childish, and coupled with the sparse prose - usually a favourite of mine, when not littered with awry !!!!! - it meant that the book read like a high school essay from a B grade student.The two stars I'm awarding this book are given on the sole two merits I found in the text. Firstly, Mills does have a knack for dialogue, and although it was obviously very artificial and structured with little to no regard for realism, it worked well in the context of the book. I liked that the characters didn't speak like people. For a book that is clearly supposed to be self-aware (although aware of what, I don't know) the stilted dialogue worked for me. Secondly, the surrealism. I genuinely liked the idea, and honestly, if the book weren't clearly trying so hard to make A Philosophical Point, I can see that I might have been quite invested in the story of a man, his house of tin and his neighbours' obsession with the knowledgeable newcomer. That in itself is a great plot, already imbued with a lot of references to a certain doctrine. If only the text had been less blatant about its ulterior motives and let the plot do the talking, then I think I would've enjoyed it a lot more.I'm sure that there's a very deep meaning to the text if you look hard enough, but like the canyon excavators in the latter half of the book, I just gave up digging.
Betty Silvia
This was an enjoyable little book of just 164 pages. I enjoyed the simplicity of the writing style and the flow of the story from personal contentment to exploration, then coming to realize "There is no place like home". The characters had just enough description to show their personality. Four neighbors lived solitary lives in tin houses on the plains with miles between their houses. I especially liked Simon Painter - the "social" neighbor who had a flag, a bell and a captive balloon at his house and was thus labeled a "showoff". The story kept my interest without becoming too complex. A perfect read for a long rainy day.
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