review of Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick Dewitt
The follow up to Dewitt's novel The Sisters Brothers is based this tine on the Gothic genre. The main character is Lucien "Lucy" Minor and with the mysterious death of his father, the parish priest of Bury writes to kings, barons and other noblemen about hiring Lucy as a servant in their castle to which it gets one reply. The person most ecstatic about his leaving seems to his mother who quickly moves to offer to rent out Lucy's room.
Lucy is a bit of a fantasist, his encounter with Marina before leaving Bury andhis first encounter with Memel and Mewe on the train to the Castle of Aux shows a great imagination for Lucy.
Once reached Aux, he is confronted by the war that is in the surrounding areas although like Lucy, the reader never gets to know why, much like the other characters in it, fighting for the sake of fighting.
The Castle itself is a desolate bleak empty place. Most of the rooms untouched and the baron's nocturnal activities. The castle has a hauntingness to the place. The major domo is Mr. Olderglough, a man in solitude looking after the affairs of the castle as best he can and there is the chambermaid become chef of the castle to do the cooking. In the village, Lucy meets the beguiling Klara, daughter of Memel but Klara is engaged kind of to one of the soldiers fighting for nothing.
It is not as good as The Sisters Brothers but as a novel in it's own right, it is very good, funny, interesting and you just want to read it to get to the end. Dewitt has done a really good job writing it and shows an immense ability to go from one genre to another while maintaining a style in his writing that I like (most important of all that I like it ).
The tone and atmosphere built by Dewitt is excellent and while it doesn't live up to what went before it, this novel isn't a bad one to pass the time with. I enjoyed it
Discuss Ablutions. You are reading Patrick de Witt's first novel on the strength of his Booker shortlisted Sisters Brothers. You are drawn to the cover; it looks similar to the Sisters Brothers. It isn't.
You find yourself in a bar, somewhere in America. Probably Los Angeles. You aren't quite clear where. You view the world through an alcoholic haze, drinking free Jameson's Irish Whiskey in a bar where few people seem to pay for their drinks. You are pouring the drinks even though, it seems, you are not the barman.
Discuss the customers. They include a child TV star who has fallen for the drink. There's a coke dealer. There are teachers. There's a psychic. There are hookers. Plus there are the doormen, the South African bar manager and a wannabe film director. In fact, it seems you're the only one who has never had ambitions in Hollywood. You're just living for the next drink or the next hit of coke.
Your story is barely coherent. Mostly just fragments and snippets that might fall together into a plot, if only your life actually had a plot. Of course there is some element of continuity, it's just you can't find the direction.
You've got to like second person narration - a device which is irritating at best. You've got to just stick with things, however they go. You've got to appreciate the atmosphere even if the story and characterisation are a bit thin. Then, and only then, are you going to get something from Ablutions. Otherwise you'll find it a depressing, repetitive and dull affair.
A friend gave me this book the moment she finished it, saying it was one of her favorite recent reads. My friend had been shopping at Powell's bookstore in Portland, Oregon and the saleswoman had told her that she was so furious that it didn't win the Booker the year it was nominated that she refused to read the winner (The Sense of an Ending) on principle. I was a little confused about how it could have been nominated for the Booker because the author lives in Oregon and the book is set in Oregon and California during the Gold Rush, but it turns out that the author is Canadian.
The book tells the story of two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, who are killers in the employ of a man in Oregon City (now a suburb of Portland) known as "the Commodore." They are sent to San Francisco to kill a man who has offended the Commodore and the book follows that trip and its outcome. But really, that's just the organizing device around the brothers' strange encounters with all sorts of people and Eli's ruminations on their career choice, his relationship with his brother, and the personalities of those he encounters on his journey. He is an unusually warm and naive killer. He just doesn't seem to fit the part of a hired murderer and that's probably because he's been roped into it by Charlie, who really is a natural-born killer. Charlie appears to regard killing another human being as being something that just needs to be done sometimes and takes pride in doing that particular job very well. He has little bits of a conscience from time to time, but nothing compared to Eli's worries about what they are doing and desire for a more settled life.
The structure of the book is very straightforward except for two "Intermissions" that involve a very strange little girl appearing in a dream (I think) that Eli has. I have not yet decided why they are included, although I suspect that they help clarify for Eli the unnatural nature of the life he is living with Charlie.
I enjoyed DeWitt's writing style in this book. More than anything, the stilted and formal nature of the communication reminded me of True Grit. And it made for some very poignant or funny (or both) observations from Eli.
All this being said, the book didn't completely gel for me. Most of the encounters seemed so odd that I wondered if we weren't supposed to think that they had really happened. But I couldn't figure out where to draw the line, either, which does mean that I have ruminated on the book since finishing it, but ultimately found it a bit frustrating. I may ruminate on it some more and find it less frustrating. But even with that caveat, I really liked this book and would recommend it to anyone.