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The Princess and the Whisk Heads
ISBN 0385658982 / 9780385658980 / 0-385-65898-2
Publisher Doubleday, Toronto
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Russell Smith's The Princess and the Whiskheads is a fable, not a novel, but don't let that fool you: this is not a whimsical tale like those collected in Sheila Heti's The Middle Stories. The Princess and the Whiskhead is a deadly serious little book, and for all its fairy-tale royalty and faraway lands, it is a pointed piece of social commentary.
Princess Juliana is the young, beautiful, and neglectful ruler of Liralove, a tiny kingdom caught between its quaint, folksy past and the utilitarian pressures of modernity. Juliana spends her days in her palace, leaving only to attend the occasional public function, delegating all of her duties to an eccentric government of administrators and flunkies. One day, her would-be lover, Bostock, informs her of a counterculture that is thriving within her capital--the Whiskheads, a part-punk, part-hippie band of bohemian aesthetes who live illegally inside the Architectons (Liralove's useless, art-for-art's-sake public monuments). Shocked by the prospect of unrest within her own state, Juliana slips out of her palace and covertly befriends a few Whiskheads, inadvertently becoming the catalyst for a wave of social upheaval.
Smith's take on art, countercultures, elitism, and politics is refreshing and amazingly in touch with the current strains of activist youth. The Princess and the Whiskheads is both an entertaining narrative and an interesting social critique. One can only hope that it will gain more than a few sympathetic readers. --Jack Illingworth [via]