I would start with a charcoal sketch of his face. I was ruthless about detail, and documented each new wrinkle or discolouration or sausage spot, but this is what he wanted - in his very first sitting, I flattered him on the canvas, and he threatened never to return, so the next time I painted him as he was, and it pleased him. You would be surprised what can happen to a face in two months. One day I'll bind together all the surviving charcoal sketches and make a flipbook that jolts single frames into action when thumbed quickly. The flipbook's action will be the ageing of the President.
A president is overthrown by a military coup in a nameless country, and in the midst of mass arrests, three members of the Presidential household—his barber, chef, and portraitist—are taken hostage in a remote mountain palace. Before the coup, these men worked with unquestioning loyalty, serving the President in the seemingly benign tasks of grooming him, nourishing him, and rendering his image to be hung in Parliament. But as the old order falls, the truth about these men and the significant women in their lives is revealed, and the web of complicity and duplicity begins to unravel. Dovey’s mesmerizing debut grapples with humanity’s most mercenary and animalistic instincts, and reminds us that the mad king is within us all.
“In this elegantly structured debut novel...in lively, straightforward prose, Dovey gets to the heart of the complicit nature of the master-servant relationship, in which 'power and desire couple effortlessly.'”
- The New Yorker
“More ambitious and more immediate than a fable, a story about how the slightest taste of power so easily stimulates our limitless appetite for sadism. Dovey's ultimate lesson, that nature and mankind abhor a power vacuum, may be a bleak one, but she presents her case so meticulously and relentlessly that you've got to respect her authority.”
- New York Times Sunday Book Review
“Late 20th century English-language literature is rich in works of political implication that capture what might be called the aesthetics of betrayal...Dovey has extended this genre in an important way by exploring the eros of complicity. Every tyrant's accomplice partakes of it, as every act of collaboration is simultaneously one of seduction and submission...One of the things that makes Dovey's impressive novel so ruthlessly unsentimental is her implicit insistence that conscience is the illumination that every tyrant must fear -- and her explicit demonstration of just how casually that light is everywhere extinguished.”
- LA Times
“A terrific debut novel...a meticulously constructed story about political corruption and its impact on people’s lives...artfully bleak and ingenious.”
- The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)