A postmodern fairy tale might best describe Jacques Roubaud’s delightful book The Princess Hoppy or, The Tale of Labrador. How else to describe a novel that reads like an Arthurian romance as rewritten by Lewis Carroll, with enough math puzzles to keep the game reader busy with a calculator for months?
The tale concerns a princess, her faithful dog (who happens to be a wiz at math), four royal uncles always plotting, four royal aunts always potting, a lovesick hedgehog named Bartleby, two camels named North Dakota and South Dakota, four ducks who double as boats (thus called doats), and an amphibious blue whale named Barbara—to name only a few. (Even the Sun has a speaking role.) There are dramatic abductions, daring rescues, passages in hitherto untranscribed languages (Dog, Grasshopper, Duck), tales of unrequited love, allegorical interludes, poems, a playlet, and much more. (But no suspenders, the author promises.)
Finally, there are 79 questions for readers of the novel, to see how closely they’ve been paying attention—for ultimately The Princess Hoppy is a giddy inquiry into how we read literary works. It is both an old-fashioned tale and an ultramodern hypertext, the oldest and the latest thing in fiction.