Lionel Savage married for the worst reason: money. He was out of funds and, in order to continue his decadent lifestyle of reading and writing poetry, he needed a wife. After he found and married a lovely woman, Vivien, he suddenly lost the ability to write. Still, as Lionel tells his story in Forrest Leo’s hilariously madcap novel, The Gentleman, one feels anything but sorry for the man. After all, he’s the one who declares that he sold his wife to the Devil.
The Gentleman takes the form of Lionel retrospectively telling us the story of how he lost his wife, edited and with helpful (and snarky) comments from his cousin-in-law. We meet Lionel six months after his marriage. He thinks his wife is vapid and boring. He still can’t talk to her. The next morning, after one more masked ball, Vivien is gone. Lionel believe that she was taken by a strange man he met that night, a man who stopped by to thank Lionel for defending him to a stranger. The troubling thing is that the only person Lionel defended was the Devil, who a parson had cursed. In Lionel’s feverish mind, this means that he accidentally sold his wife to the Adversary.
None of this summary hints at how funny this novel is. The plot is hectic and silly, the characters more so. Over the course of the next week (or so), Lionel discovers he loves his wife, is browbeaten into a quest to Hell to rescue her, challenged to two duels, makes friends with a mad scientist, and has to deal with his sister’s attempts to demolish social propriety. It’s a wonder he doesn’t crack under the strain.
I had so much fun reading The Gentleman that the book was over far too quickly. It had the kind of loopy, Anglophilic absurdism that I just can’t get enough of. Even though Lionel is a complete twerp and everything that happens to him is entirely his own fault, I had too much fun laughing at him to be annoyed.
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 16 August 2016.