Summary: Just imagine celebrating Christmas on every day that the good Lord creates, and even on the ones He does not. Funny hats, serpentines and confetti as you like it. It’s party time. Fun for all, laughter all around…
To be quite honest, it is a forced fiesta, like the labour with the same adjective. Whether you like it or
not, you have to celebrate Christmas until the small hours. Forced. And do not forget to exchange gifts, or you’ll pay the price: immediately sentenced to the Brigade of the Jolly Drills, even more inhumane than the usual vice squad.
Your progress is inspected with pleasure: ‘Blow up this balloon, please’. Your life is a misery in this world so much like ours where reality surpasses the surreal. A real nightmare? Absolutely!
Houppeland, by Tronchet 7.75
‘Houppeland’ is a book I picked up at the local library’s second hand book store just because of its cover. Crowded with a bunch of strange-looking, grinning Santa Clauses and a ferocious pitbull behind a “Merry Christmas” sign, it just seemed too twisted to pass up. I decided that, whatever it was, it would be one of my Christmas treats.
It was a judicious choice.
French author Tronchet’s comic strip is a tour de force in dementia. First published in the mid-’90s in various volumes, it has been compiled here in its entirety, including an introduction that consists of fake newspaper articles pertaining to the world of Houppeland, a Republic that is run by a President who clearly doesn’t have all his marbles.
In Houppeland, every day is Christmas. As dictated by the President, people must follow Christmas traditions daily, rejoicing together, giving each other gifts, and extolling the Christmas Spirit. Or else: anyone caught not being properly festive are arrested and sent to re-education, where they are force fed holiday cheer until they fall in line.
But there is an underground resistance movement that opposes this fascist Christmastime: they hold dinners with non-traditional, bland, unfestive foods – like unsalted crackers. They also give each other lame gifts, like plastic forks, if anything at all. They are considered terrorists and are hunted down mercilessly by the President’s men.
And this is where our story begins, with René Poliveau attending a dinner and meeting a surly, unfestive -but beautiful- woman called Arlette Champagne. Smitten with her, he finds himself caught up in the resistance and on the run from the authorities. Thanks to his concerted efforts, he will not just impress her, but the revolutionaries as well.
I was actually really pleased with ‘Houppeland’. If it reminded me of anything, it was of ‘1984‘ – except with a satirical holiday theme. This is a double-edged sword, naturally, because while ‘1984’ is a brilliant story, it’s also an oppressive one – so mixing it up with the jubilant nature of Christmas made for a rather unusual overall vibe.
Naturally, I found the tale not just hilarious but pertinently satirical; I know people who find the expectations of the holiday season oppressive. This spoke very much to that, turning expectations to impositions with dire repercussions. I think that ‘Houppeland’ is significant in that way, even if it wasn’t Tronchet’s intentions.
I also loved the madness contained within its pages – not just in the setting, but in the little situations that took place throughout: for instance, the President’s gift from his people is a train set – a real live one. This means that he gets to play with a train and its passengers. And we all know what little boys do with train sets…
I was also bowled over to discover that the Republic isn’t just all about Christmas: it’s actually about holidays, and when this President passes on, the next President (who is selected from the current Cabinet in a holiday-themed raffle) gets to choose which holiday will be celebrated and brutally enforced daily in their country.
It’s complete madness!
But it makes for an original, engrossing and very funny book. You have to have a twisted sense of humour to enjoy ‘Houppeland’, but anyone who does will surely find something to savour. And, if it’s any indication of what Tronchet is capable of, I am most anxious to read some of his other works. I’ll no doubt hunt them down in the near future.