Cover image for Three to see the king
Three to see the king
Mills, Magnus.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Picador USA, 2001.
Physical Description:
167 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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A novel rich in comic menace from the author of The Restraint of Beasts

In a setting Samuel Beckett might have found homey lives a man in a house made of tin. He is content. The tin house is well constructed and located miles from the tin houses of his nearest neighbors. Though he seems to have escaped society, however, society finds him.

One day, a woman arrives and moves in. Soon a neighbor comes to visit, and then another. Soon, moving figures silhouette the horizon. People dismantling their tin houses and setting off to find a master builder with a revolutionary message. The gravitational pull cannot be resisted.

Nor can this novel. Part mystery, part parable, Three to See the King stalks the reader's imagination and grows inexorably and irresistibly in the telling.

Author Notes

Magnus Mills lives in London.

(Publisher Provided)

Magnus Mills is the author of A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In and six other novels, including The Restraint of Beasts, which won the McKitterick Prize and was shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and the Whitbread (now the Costa) First Novel Award in 1999. His most recent novel, A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In, was published to great critical acclaim. His books have been translated into twenty languages. His title, The Field of the Cloth of Gold, made the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist 2015.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

With a landscape right out of Samuel Beckett, Mills' latest offering is another tour de force of the strange. As in his previous novels, the narrator is unnamed and readers are dropped into the story with little stage setting or background. Our hero lives in a house made of tin in a red dessert on a high plain. A woman arrives and moves in; distant neighbors interact then relocate; and there's a pilgrimage of sorts to meet Michael Hawkins, a mysterious figure in the distance. Questions of who, why, and where are never asked or answered, nor does the story need this information to proceed. Readers may feel frustrated as they wonder who these people are, why they're there, and where their food and water come from, but such concerns merely reflect our need to impose logic on the absurd. Less happens in this book than one might think possible without diminishing the impact of what may be a parable of our times or a glimpse into an alternate universe. --Danise Hoover

Publisher's Weekly Review

For his third novel, former London bus driver Mills (The Restraint of Beasts) delivers a remarkable fable packed with amusing biblical allusions and eccentric characters. It begins in a house of tin "in the middle of a vast and deserted plain," where the unnamed narrator lives alone. Three of his friends Simon Painter, Philip Sibling and Steve Treacle also live on the plain, also in houses of tin. The narrator's primary activities consist of sweeping away the sand that accumulates at his doorstep and listening to the incessant wind, until the severely critical Mary Petrie arrives unannounced one day with a trunk of her belongings in tow and starts pushing his buttons. From Simon, the narrator learns of a new, mysterious "neighbor," Michael Hawkins, in whom Simon and the others become increasingly interested. They even dismantle Simon's house and move it closer to Michael's, to the narrator's annoyance. He then learns that the strangers he has been seeing in the area are helping Michael to dig a giant canyon that will hold an entire city of tin houses. This hits a nerve, as the narrator's unrealized dream of living in a canyon has always been "quite a sensitive matter" for him. Urged on by Mary, he goes to investigate and discovers that a cultlike atmosphere has formed around Michael and his colossal project. But when Michael tells his followers that plans have changed and they won't actually be living in houses of tin, all hell breaks loose and it is up to the narrator to save the day. Mills, who has been a finalist for England's Booker Prize, flaunts his influences (Beckett, Sartre) to delightful effect in this weird, poignant story. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



1 I live in a house built entirely from tin, with four tin walls, a roof of tin, a chimney and door. Entirely from tin. My house has no windows because there's nothing to see. Oh, there are shutters that can be used to let the light in when required, but they remain closed against the weather for most of the time. It stands in a wild place, my house, high up on the plain. At night it creaks and groans as the wind batters it for hour after hour, in search of a gap to get inside. Even the door has to be bolted top and bottom to stop it from being blown open. I used to worry in case one day I might lose the roof, but so far that hasn't happened and now I'm certain the structure is quite sound. The man who built it made sure of that. I found the house empty a few years ago, and adopted it for my own use. At first sight I knew it had everything I could need: somewhere to eat and drink and sleep without disturbance, protected from the elements by a layer of corrugated metal and nothing more. A very modest dwelling I must say, but it looked clean and tidy so I moved in. For a long while I was quite content here, and remained convinced I would find no better place to be. Then one day a woman arrived at my door and said, 'So this is where you've been hiding.' THREE TO SEE THE KING. Copyright (c) 2001 by Magnus Mills. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. Excerpted from Three to See the King by Magnus Mills All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.