Fiction – paperback; Harper Perennial; 167 pages; 2001.
Magnus Mills’ Three to see the King is a fable about human relationships and human happiness. Is the grass greener on the other side? And if you conform to society’s expectations will you feel like you belong?
This is a simple tale told in Mills’ characteristic stripped back prose; it’s almost like reading a children’s story, except the adult complexities resonate off the page. In fact it’s the things that Mills does not say that reveal so much about the characters in this little gem of a book.
The narrator himself is a simple character, happy to live in a house made of tin on a vast, red sandy plain in relative isolation and obscurity. But one day a woman arrives at his door and moves in. Initially he feels unsettled by this, but eventually he gets used to her presence and a comfortable companionship ensues.
Then his neighbour announces he’s moving further afield to join a community being built by the great Michael Hawkins.But the narrator refuses to accept that Michael’s way of life is any better than his own, and, in making such an admission, inadvertently offends his neighbour who is unable to believe his short-sightedness.
Within weeks everyone living within a five-mile radius of the narrator has packed up their houses and moved to Michael’s village. The narrator watches a never-ending stream of people wandering across the red sandy plain, pieces of tin strapped to their backs, as they head towards nirvana down the road.
Before long curiosity gets the better of him and he too goes in search of greener pastures. . . with devastating (and hilarious) consequences.
I loved this book and sniggered all the way through it. But don’t be fooled by the pared down language; there’s a lot going on here. It’s a wonderful allegory, part horror story, part comedy and I defy you not to read it without smiling at least once. These kinds of books are good for the soul.