Keen readers might notice this is the second time I’ve recommended Patrick deWitt’s work. Some will exclaim, “Sir, are there not a practically infinite number of worthy writers to recommend? Why recommend an author twice?” I will respond, “Indeed, there is a seemingly endless sea of writers deserving of my endorsement, but several factors conspire to cause a repeat recommendation of his work. I’m particularly enamored with Mr. deWitt’s writing. His newest novel was published subsequent to my previous recommendation and it is amazing. And while some quick and dubious math tells me I read upwards of 8,000 books a year, I cannot read everything, but I did recently read “Undermajordomo Minor.” Furthermore, as I saunter around town twirling my cane and mustache, my query of, ‘Have you yet mined the depths of Patrick deWitt’s talents?’ is nearly always met with either confusion, averted eyes or a non-sequiturial admonishment to ‘be careful with that cane, you nearly hit my baby.’ (I’ve said this countless times, but I will reiterate here: I never twirl my cane with anything less than utmost precision, and your baby could stand to toughen up.) Clearly, I have not been sufficiently persuasive. So until passersby respond to my deWitt-centric interrogations with a tip of their headgear and an enthusiastic, ‘Yes. And by the way, you are rather precise in the manner with which you twirl both your mustache and your cane,’ I must continue to espouse the virtues of Mr. deWitt’s work.”
So, to espouse, “Undermajordomo Minor” is a dryly hilarious novel containing brilliant sentences, memorable characters, an uncanny setting and a captivating plot. The word choices alone were enough for decorum to dictate that I employ my trusted chuckle hankie to mitigate the unseemly act of laughing. The novel’s other assets mandated that I draw my chuckle curtains.
This sort of fairy tale concerns a young man named Lucien (Lucy) Minor. Lucy isn’t sure what to make of his life, and so when that time comes, as it does in every young man’s life I assume, when a man draped in burlap asks, “What do you want from life?” Lucy responds, “Something to happen.” And so something does. The man in burlap seemingly transfers Lucy’s life-threatening illness to Lucy’s cruel father. Lucy secures work in a majordomo’s castle and buys a pipe. The pipe makes him cough. On the train ride to the castle seeds are planted for a relationship with a father and son pickpocket team. Lucy’s new pipe is pickpocketted. Once arriving at the castle grounds, Lucy finds himself in the midst of a very small war. A handful of men fire rifles at each other and ask for Lucy’s nonexistent valuables. Once he manages to secure entry to the castle, he is entreated to always lock his door at night. He is made aware of the “Very Large Hole.” Eventually, having disregarded his curfew, he comes across a ghastly sight in the castle halls — rarely does a scene manage to be so horrifying and hilarious. Also, he falls in love.
If this blog post and my street-side hectoring are not enough to convince you to read “Undermajordomo Minor,” then perhaps Daniel (Lemony Snicket) Handler’s unprecedented act of writing an amusing book review will convince you. I warn you, more informative and insightful though he may be, I doubt Handler capable of twirling a cane with even a modicum of the grace and majesty I employ.