“It occurs to me with a shock that he may not like books. I dismiss the thought as soon as it enters my head as too preposterous to be borne. Not like books! I cannot believe it of a fellow man.”
This book is the driest of the dry of humor and I loved it. I normally try to do my own plot summary for reviews, but I think that whomever wrote the blurb for this one did an excellent job, so I’m cribbing it from them:
“When Lionel Savage, a popular poet in Victorian London, learns from his butler that they’re broke, he marries the beautiful Vivien Lancaster for her money, only to find that his muse has abandoned him.
Distraught and contemplating suicide, Savage accidentally conjures the Devil — the polite “Gentleman” of the title — who appears at one of the society parties Savage abhors. The two hit it off: the Devil talks about his home, where he employs Dante as a gardener; Savage lends him a volume of Tennyson. But when the party’s over and Vivien has disappeared, the poet concludes in horror that he must have inadvertently sold his wife to the dark lord.
Newly in love with Vivien, Savage plans a rescue mission to Hell that includes Simmons, the butler; Tompkins, the bookseller; Ashley Lancaster, swashbuckling Buddhist; Will Kensington, inventor of a flying machine; and Savage’s spirited kid sister, Lizzie, freshly booted from boarding school for a “dalliance.” Throughout, his cousin’s quibbling footnotes to the text push the story into comedy nirvana.
Lionel and his friends encounter trapdoors, duels, anarchist-fearing bobbies, the social pressure of not knowing enough about art history, and the poisonous wit of his poetical archenemy. Fresh, action-packed and very, very funny, The Gentleman is a giddy farce that recalls the masterful confections of P.G. Wodehouse and Hergé’s beautifully detailed Tintin adventures.”
There’s a lot to take in there, but if it screams to you – you should try this one. If it’s even only mildly interesting I would suggest skipping this title. The blurb really captures the tone of the book. It had me hooked at “the social pressure of not knowing enough about art history”, and it didn’t let me down.
Every character has a role to play, and they are all taken to the ridiculous extreme. Lionel is an unreliable narrator, but mostly in his own views of himself. The premise of the novel is that it is in Lionel’s words, but that his wife’s cousin is editing it. Hubert, the cousin, puts in anecdotes through footnotes on nearly every page, and also editorializes about Lionel’s perceptions. I enjoy a little (or a lot) of ridiculousness in my stories, so this all worked for me.
Everything listed in the synopsis happens, but not in a fantastical way. Which is kind of weird when you realize that the Devil actually comes calling (and takes tea, and borrows a poetry book…) There are illustrations throughout the book that have absolutely nothing to do with what is going on in the story, but are also hilarious. Overall it’s just a lot of fun, and I look forward to anything else this author puts out.
“I’m in love and I’ve the best private library in Britain. I have never known books or love ever to fail, so I don’t see why they’d do so now.”