Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt

It’s hard to know what to make of this curious little novel by Patrick DeWitt. Undermajordomo Minor is unquestionably the strangest tale I’ve read in years—and I read a great deal of science fiction, much of which is surpassingly strange. (No, this is not science fiction.)

Here we have a young man named Lucien (“Lucy”) Minor who lives unhappily in a village called Bury. To escape the boredom and ridicule of his contemporaries there, Lucy accepts a position as Undermajordomo at the castle of the Baron Von Aux far across the country. Traveling by train in a third-class cabin he encounters a thief named Memel. He soon discovers that Memel lives in the village below the Baron’s castle—and he has a gorgeous young daughter named Klara. Lucy is smitten. Much of the action that follows after he joins the castle staff involves Lucy’s pursuit of Klara. But so much else is going on that it’s difficult to summarize. For one thing, a seesaw war is underway nearby between two factions for some undetermined and apparently senseless reason. A soldier in one of the two armies considers himself engaged to marry Klara. And Lucy quickly finds himself in a confrontation with the man.

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt @@@ (3 out of 5)

Even days after Lucy’s arrival, the Baron is nowhere to be seen. Lucy asks his boss, Mr. Olderglough, where he is to be found.

“The Baron goes where the Baron wishes. And often as not he wishes to go nowhere at all . . . Six days out of seven he won’t even leave his room. Seven days out of seven.”

“And what does he do in there, sir?”

“I suspect it involves a degree of brooding. But this is not your problem to ponder; it’ll be months before you lay eyes on the man, if you lay eyes on him.”

But Lucy does in fact encounter the Baron rather quickly. He discovers that the man is even stranger than his boss had implied. And what follows Lucy’s discovery moves the tale out of the realm of strangeness and into surrealism.

Undermajordomo Minor is at times very, very funny. In that respect, it’s reminiscent of DeWitt’s earlier novel, The Sisters Brothers, a hilarious tale of criminals at work during the California Gold Rush. I loved that book. This one, not so much.

For further reading

You might also care to take a look at My 10 favorite funny novels and 39 great popular novels reviewed on this site.

My (favorable) review of The Sisters Brothers is at Hired killers, the California Gold Rush, and lots of surprisesUndermajordomo Minor is not historical fiction, as you should have guessed. But I’m sure you would find novels in that genre more satisfying.

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