Book Review

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt

Undermajordomo Minor tells the story of Lucien (Lucy) Minor.  Born in the hamlet of Bury, he has no friends, has had one brief romantic liaison, and longs for some excitement.

Shortly after his father’s death, he finds employment in the Baron Von Aux’s estate, working for the “majordomo” (see below for definition).  Seeing this as his chance to start over, he packs his bags and heads to the remote castle in the mountains.

a decision which led to many things, including but not limited to true love, bitterest heartbreak, bright-white terror of the spirit, and an acute homicidal impulse

On his journey, he meets two thieves – Memel and Mewe – who live in the shanty village surrounding the castle, and who soon become his friends.  Memel is the father of the beguiling Klara, with whom Lucy falls in love, although she is in a relationship with a handsome soldier fighting a war that we never actually find out the purpose of.

Undermajordomo Minor is part gothic fairy tale, part love story.  The setting sounds like something from the works of the Brothers Grimm – extensive forests against a backdrop of snowy mountains – both picturesque and potentially dangerous.  But while this has all the vibes of a fairy tale, it stops at the surreal without crossing that boundary into the magical.

I found Lucy to be a somewhat odd character.  He’s young and comes across as being relatively naïve, and in this way Undermajordomo Minor is also part Bildungsroman as we see Lucy mature as the story progresses.  At the same time, Lucy is something of a habitual liar, which is unusual in this kind of character – they are usually honest to a fault.  I found this to be quite refreshing.

I quite enjoyed the “upstairs / downstairs” element of the novel and the way in which it ridicules the higher classes.  And the novel is highly amusing – evoking everything from a small chuckle of appreciation to laughing out loud and everything in between.

With its playful language and pseudo medieval European setting, Undermajordomo Minor is a dark and slightly unsettling fairy tale for grown-ups, and I loved it.  One of my top 10 novels of the year.

I did have to look up what a majordomo is.  According to Wikipedia a majordomo is:

a person who speaks, makes arrangements, or takes charge for another. Typically, the term refers to the highest (major) person of a household (domūs or domicile) staff, who acts on behalf of the (often absent) owner of a (typically) large or significant residence.

Thus the undermajordomo works for the majordomo.

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