Undermajordomo Minor

umdmTitle: Undermajordomo Minor

Author: Patrick deWitt

Summary: Lucien (Lucy) Minor is the resident odd duck in the bucolic hamlet of Bury. Friendless and loveless, young and aimless, he is a compulsive liar and a melancholy weakling. When Lucy accepts employment assisting the majordomo of the remote, forbidding castle of the Baron Von Aux he meets thieves, madmen, aristocrats, and a puppy. He also meets Klara, a delicate beauty who is, unfortunately, already involved with an exceptionally handsome partisan soldier. Thus begins a tale of polite theft, bitter heartbreak, domestic mystery and cold-blooded murder in which every aspect of human behaviour is laid bare for our hero to observe. But Lucy must be cautious and lock his bedroom door, because someone, or something, is roaming the corridors of the castle late at night.

Undermajordomo Minor is a riotous blend of Gothic romance and macabre European fairy tale. It is a triumphant ink-black comedy of manners and a timeless account of that violent thing: love.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This is deWitt’s third novel. I adored the other two, which left me with high expectations for this one. Thankfully, i was not disappointed. If i had to choose one word to describe this book, i think i’d pick ‘weird’, but oh what a wonderful weird it is!

Without a doubt my favourite thing about this book are the conversations Lucy has with his boss, the majordomo, Mr Olderglough. They were just so… concise. Questions were asked, answers were given, and no judgements were ever made. They just seemed to click, but in a way where they never truly bonded, as that would require more words and expression than was necessary. Their dialogue stretched pages, and i spent the entirety of it smiling.

In each of his books deWitt has had a different, distinct and immersive narrative voice. This book’s, i think, is the most innocent. Lucy is young, starved of love and affection, but does not feel sorry for himself. He’s always looking forward and striving for better things, but without being obnoxious. He’s just… such a straightforward character and i kind of adore him.

All the characters were likeable, in their own ways. Even the ones i wasn’t supposed to like, i sort of did. I think it helped that there was no real tension in the book; even when something went badly, things were generally still okay. There were no heart-in-mouth moments, just a gentle bobbing of emotion. It made the book such a joy to read.

I really did feel the fairy tale vibe to the book, with the castle, the very large hole, the armies fighting over nothing they could articulate, and the general easy going flow of the narrative. Of course there were bits that wouldn’t belong in a children’s fairy tale, but those were the bits that added an eerie, dark and comedic aspect to the story. Love and death were the two big themes of the story, and despite the generally light and tension-free narrative, i think it dealt with them wonderfully. Mirroring and contrasting points within three different love triangles and rivalries, it all unfolds by the end.

And the end is perfect. For Lucy it is neither happy nor sad; it is the kind of ending i love. The kind of ending where i can imagine several ways things play out past the last words in the book, and i love all the options.

I’m already pining for the next book by deWitt. My expectations are only getting higher, but my fear of disappointment is cheerfully low.

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TTT: Authors

TTTI found this one pretty easy. There aren’t too many authors I read just because—without knowing more about the book itself. My original list had about 13 names, and it wasn’t too hard to cut that down to 10. These authors are ten names that have me reading any book by without question.

Christopher Brookmyre – Comedy, crime, satire, well-rounded characters. The day a Brookmyre book doesn’t make me laugh out loud will be a very sad day indeed (and a day that will never happen).

John Wyndham – Insightful science fiction. This man has not written a word I haven’t loved.

Patrick deWitt – I can’t even categorise deWitt’s genre… sharp, witty contemporary. Is that a thing? With only two books written, i’m already 100% hooked.

Stephen King – Horror. As King has said himself: he is the literary equivalent of a bigmac and fries. It’s not the most nutritious meal, and you don’t want to eat it every day, but it’s bloody tasty when you have it.

Shirley Jackson – Horror. Jackson is more classic horror. More chills and meaning. More genuinely scary.

William Golding – Another author who is hard to pigeon hole, because his subject matter and message vary so much from book to book. He is consistently well-written and interesting, though.

George Orwell – Intelligent, insightful and ahead of his time. I’ve only read a couple of Orwell’s books so far, but I look forward to more.

Aldous Huxley – I file Huxley close to Orwell, but not because of Brave New World and 1984, as you might expect. Mostly because they strike me as two people who would have interesting conversations—they both have worthwhile and intelligent things to say.

J D Salinger – Some authors are just in a genre of their own, and I think Salinger is one. He has such a way with words, so simple, but so unique for his characters. He gets across concepts and personality so swiftly that it looks easy.

Ursula Le Guin – Science fiction that holds such imagination and exploration. I adore Le Guin a lot. I can’t get enough of her work, and hold very high—and possibly unfair—expectations of her.

Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

ablutionsTitle: Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

Author: Patrick deWitt

Summary: A brilliant portrait of addiction and its consequences, featuring a watchful, whiskey-loving barman, sociopathic clientele – daring, funny and surprisingly tender.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: Discuss how much you enjoyed the book you recently finished reading. It so quickly immerses you into the story by making you a part of the story. With its second person narrative executed perfectly, the short chapters that manage to get you reading more than you intend to and the simple language used to efficiently yet evocatively describe these people and their surroundings. You sum up your review in its first paragraph and wonder if you should bother continuing.

Yeah, i was hooked on this book within the first few pages. A couple of years ago i read deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers on a recommendation from a friend and loved it. Ablutions has been on my to-read list ever since. Last weekend i found it a library book sale for 0.25p. Needless to say, i snapped it up and started reading it almost immediately. Possibly the best 0.25p i’ve ever spent.

Set in a bar in Los Angeles, the book explores alcoholism, drug addition and self-abuse in general. At no point does it romanticise these things–trust me. In fact it goes out of its way to specifically to show them as debasing, depraving and life-ruining.

I don’t know, i really did sum it up in that first paragraph. About half of the short sections start with “Discuss [something]” and, as the title suggests, the entire book reads like notes on people and incidents in the narrators life, and with the second person it’s as if he is writing notes to himself. Or, as if the reader has written notes to themselves. Second person narration is so hard to do well, but deWitt nails it in this book. The narrator, and every character described in the book, is hateful, selfish and self-destructive; none of them are likable, but the second person narrative had me rooting for the protagonist hard by the end, even as he steal and lies and causes harm.

The nature of the note-taking-like storytelling utilises a very simple writing style, lots of “you do [this]” and “you say [that]” etc, but it is its simplicity and clarity that so easily–so casually–creates this vivid world and characters. I’m not a fan of over-description, so of course i favour this style, but it really adds to this novel and its style overall. The simplistic writing offers as much insight into the narrator as any description of himself he may offer, and i often found myself consciously recognising the minimalistic writing style for that reason.

Again, in fitting with the “notes for a novel” title, a lot of the book reads like a character study of all the people the narrator encounters, and i found that fascinating. Getting to know characters and forming opinions on them is something i love about books, and this one manages it perfectly. I hate and/or pity everyone in the book, but they are also so obviously human and vulnerable and have something that could be likable about them–they’re real.

Humour is also a huge part of this novel. I laughed a lot, and wanted to tweet quotes every time i picked up the book. A lot of the humour is crude and gross, but that personally doesn’t offend me or put me off at all. I love it when amusement comes with a side of disgusted face-pulling; life isn’t all free shots and parties, sometimes it’s blueberries-and-blood shitting yourself.

Patrick deWitt’s writing style has so much of what i love. He is fast becoming one of my very favourite authors, and i eagerly await the release of his next novel in September.

I’m using this book to knock off the free space in my Bookish Bingo!