Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a short novel, only just clocking up two hundred pages. This is an entirely welcome thing at a time when twice that length seems to have become a bare minimum. It’s quick and snappy, pared of all flab. It is not, though it has often been called it, a fun book. This perception is probably due to Doctorow’s sprightly, bantering style. The story itself however is concerned with betrayal and mental breakdown. In this, Paul Di Filippo is right on the money when he identifies Doctorow as being aligned with the axis of serious jocularity (he could also have been describing himself.)