Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (4 out of 5)
My first thought upon finding out that this was coming out? Excitement! I read deWitt’s first book The Sisters Brothers when it came out, and I LOVED it. Couldn’t get anyone except Dorothy to read it. And she loved it. Dave M was going to read it, but we couldn’t find the copy we supposedly had at the store, so I don’t think he ever pursued it. (Dave M, you still need to read it. It rules). Anyway, my second thought was that this cover is spectacular. My third thought upon seeing the author photo was “He looks a hell of a lot like Jarvis Cocker”(lead singer of Pulp, one of my favorite bands. Seriously- look at them side by side. Eerie, isn’t it?)
Uncanny! Anyway, thank you for indulging my mindless noticing of similarities in cheekbone structure and jawlines. I think it’s the fault of my coworker annoying me about Mr. Cheekbones and Angular Bone Structure himself, Mr. Eggs Benedict Cucumberbatch. Anyway, back to the book! The book is out now, brought to us by the fine folks at Harper Collins. Thank you to the lovely Jennifer Sheridan for sending me a copy so I could read and review it. I am, as ever, extremely grateful for your generosity and patience with my numerous, oddball literary requests.
We meet a young man named Lucien (Lucy for short. Which he is referred to the entire book. The problem with this? For me and my overactive visual hamster wheel on overdrive while reading a book? I envisioned Lucille Ball. And that made it very confusing indeed). To make you envision odd things as well, I’m going to refer to him as Lucy also, throughout my review. Also, in terms of authenticity with deWitt’s narrative. Lucy asks for and receives a job at the dark, grim Castle Von Aux. His job title? Assistant to the Undermajordomo, who serves the Baron, who’s largely hidden from the first part of the novel. He treks to and from the village, religiously sending missives to the Baroness, via train, from the Baron. Village life finds thieves, rogues, treachery around every corner, Adolphus, a brutish soldier, and Klara, a petite somewhat delicate flower, for whom Lucy falls head over heels for (never mind that she’s involved in some strange platonic emotional affair with Adolphus. The conflict that continues on there feeds more into the romantic triangle aspect of the novel. That’s mostly later. And it bugged me. Not sure why, but I really wanted to smack the crap out of Klara for a good portion of the book). That angle? Well, as I said, I was annoyed with Klara and some of that angle, yet the book would not have been the same black comedy without that angle. From there, you have theft, murder, strange comings and goings, servants who are loyal beyond the call of reason (Agnes? What’s her deal? Tarts? TARTS??), and the salami. THE SALAMI. I have no words besides those. If Larry Weiner’s Zombie novels help sales of Astroglide, this book should help knock salami sales through the roof. Or not. Depending on your level of being shocked. The dirtier your mind, the less the shock value. If you’re studying theology, you may want to abstain from reading this book (along with your abstinence from other things).
Not giving more away, but the Baron’s letters to the Baroness are read by Lucy, after being told NOT to read them, and he crafts his own letter to get the Baroness back to bring the Baron out of hiding and to quell his overwhelming loneliness. Sweet? Well, yes. Lucy has a sweet, somewhat romantic heart beating in that chest. His plan succeeds, as the Baroness returns, to the Baron’s shock and joy. Throw in the Duke and Countess, and you have a party. The party..well, refer to the sentence in the paragraph above. After that, things are not the same. Lucy’s own budding relationship with the petunia pot known as Klara isn’t quite the same, either. Neither is the reader, for that matter. Totally worth it.
My only beef with this little dark fable is that it WASN’T LONG ENOUGH. But then again, reader, fables never are. It took four years for Mr. deWitt to pen this hilarious, off-kilter dark hearts club manual, but if that’s how long it takes to pen the next, I suggest we shut the hell up and let him create his magic again. But we will be impatiently waiting.
If asked what Undermajordomo Minor reminds me of, it’s going to be hard to pin it down, so I’ll say it’s a little Monty Python, a little Princess Bride, a little Benny Hill, throw in some Tim Burton and Wes Anderson, and that’s what you have here. In spades. Like it or not. I’d be damned surprised if you don’t.