Technically, the first book I read this year is Patrick DeWitt‘s new novel, Undermajordomo Minor. I say “technically,” because though I finished reading it sometime in the second week of January, I actually started reading it during the last days of December.
Undermajordomo Minor was released in 2015, four years after DeWitt’s hit novel The Sisters Brothers, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize back in 2011. As with The Sisters Brothers, DeWitt uses word/name play for the title of his most recent novel. The protagonist of Undermajordomo Minor is Lucien “Lucy” Minor, who applies for a position in a castle as an undermajordomo. I don’t know if there really is such a thing, but for those who watch Downton Abbey, I’d imagine it’s similar to being an underbutler.
Anyway, the story is about Lucy Minor, an ordinary, unremarkable, loser, who owing to feeling trapped but mainly bored in his own village applies for the position as undermajordomo in a faraway castle in a village he’s never heard of. Looking for adventure and excitement, I guess you can say that his life got a bit more interesting the moment he stepped on the train that would take him to his new job and home.
Hoping that his new position would give him a sense of purpose and dignity, Lucy is sorely disappointed to discover that the castle he was going to live in is in disarray, run by only one servant, the majordomo, and a cook, and that his master is a mysterious recluse who may or may not be insane or dangerous – or both.
Though feeling isolated and scared at first, Lucy learns to adapt to his new home and work with his two other companions. He even makes friends and finds love among the strange inhabitants of the small shanty village surrounding the castle. However, living in the mysterious castle, Lucy soon witnesses very strange and disturbing goingson among its equally strange and mysterious residents.
Undermajordomo Minor is a Gothic tale of mystery, love, and friendship, with some seemingly gratuitous sex and violence thrown in to make it more interesting. Its droll narrative, with a touch of dark humor, is reminiscent of The Sisters Brothers, though compared with it, Undermajordomo Minor is somewhat underwhelming.
Undermajordomo Minor is intriguing, at best, but only in a way that you’d want to know where the story was headed, not in a way that its characters or plot are intriguing or interesting. It’s a short-ish novel, so it’s not a chore to read, though I found it quite bland (despite the author’s intentions) and not at all as entertaining or moving as The Sisters Brothers.
Despite believing that stories don’t necessarily need to serve a higher purpose to exist, the one strong thing I felt after reading Undermajordomo Minor was that it was quite pointless and does not in any way contribute to the literary world. I admit that may be a bit harsh, but it was one of my initial reactions after reading it.
Let’s just say I found it was “disappointing” and leave it at that.
Undermajordomo Minor (2015) – Patrick DeWitt
Granta; 337 pages (paperback)
Personal rating: 2/5