A few months ago, I watched Grand Budapest Hotel. I was enchanted. I was amused. And I was pretty sure I was never going to see anything like it ever again. Undermajordomo Minor, by Patrick deWitt, is pretty close. It features a young man who takes a job as a servant at a huge building where he gets to mix with the wealthy and eccentric. He is mentored by a man who has been there for ages, who is as strange as the people he serves. There’s a bit of a love story. There are a lot of ridiculous action sequences. And, like Grand Budapest Hotel, I loved every minute of Undermajordomo Minor. All that said, however, I don’t want to say that the two stories are exactly the same. Undermajordomo Minor is darker.
Lucy (Lucien) Minor leaves home after his father dies. (It is strongly implied that the father exchanged his life for his son’s. Lucy was dying of pneumonia.) On his way out of the house to the train station to take up his post as under-majordomo at the castle of Baron von Aux, Lucy meets the man who his mother has agreed to lodge in Lucy’s only just vacated room. Things don’t get any more auspicious when Lucy arrives at the castle. There are only two other servants. The baron is mad; the baroness has fled for parts unknown.
On the plus side, the work isn’t too onerous. All Lucy has to do is deliver the baron’s mail by holding up a letter near the train tracks so that a bribed engineer can post it, buy the least worst food in the village, and deposit the majordomo’s tea at his room every morning. Lucy even manages to find love. This last development means that the laws of narrative must make things complicated for young Lucy. Lucy’s troubles begin when he adds a letter of his own to the baron’s latest melancholy missive and actually manages to convince the baroness to come back to the castle. Meanwhile, his lover’s previous boyfriend returns to assert his claim. What follows is a dark, madcap (and mad) series of strange events in which Lucy tries not be killed.
Undermajordomo Minor is the kind of story that’s hard to find. (At least, it’s hard for me to find.) It’s demented, off-kilter, and hysterical (in both senses of the word). It takes place in a country that’s hard to identify, at a time that’s equally hard to pin down. It treads the boundary between plausibility and nonsense. It’s also the kind of story I adore. If your sense of humor is also demented and off-kilter, I highly recommend this book.
I received a free copy of this ebook from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 8 September 2015.