Balding’s third work of fiction, billed as “the first-ever Donald Trump novel,” is a free-wheeling farce, a three-ring circus—or maybe a three-wheeling farce circus.
Bangistan, a former Soviet republic now ruled by a kleptocratic dictator and his brother, has inaugurated a Twitter account (@bestdespot) that has for months been exchanging insults with a feckless and hotheaded American president named Ronald Rump, and the two countries find themselves in a tense nuclear confrontation. Some of Rump’s hawkish aides urge him toward a preemptive strike, but more apocalypse-shy advisers persuade Rump that he can achieve hero status and win the Nobel Peace Prize if he undertakes a last stab at diplomacy, a one-on-one meeting in the Bangistani capital, Petrobangorski. America’s European allies are terrified by the prospect of what these two touchy tin-pot tyrants might do when they face off, but what can they do but stand aside and hope? Meanwhile, a British minister vacationing in a tiny village in the south of France happens upon a Gascon woman selling courgettes at a farmers market who is a perfect doppelgӓnger for Rump. An idea dawns, and with the help of several allies and their spy agencies, plus a shiny new tractor, the Zucchini Conspiracy is set into motion. The book is politically pointed, yes, but one never imagines that the flashing blades are anything but prop swords; this is more burlesque than satire. It’s supremely silly and cheerful—think Kingsley Amis with all the black bile drained out. Not all the jokes land, but Balding keeps things moving quickly, amiably, wittily.
Not the place to go for subtlety but a fizzy romp with an inspired bit of slapstick near the end.