Undermajordomo Minor is a delightful story by Patrick deWitt. Lucien Minor, or Lucy, is a young man who is thrilled to be leaving home. His father has died and his mother seems to be wishing it had been him instead. He’s bored and ready for adventure which comes his way when the local priest finds him a job at a baron’s castle as undermajordomo. In addition to being young, he is perhaps a bit naive and infatuated with lying. After telling a rather unbelievable lie, he thinks, “How remarkable a thing a lie is. He wondered if it wasn’t man’s finest achievement, and after some consideration, decided that it was.”
Of course, his lies are always found out because they are all ridiculous, but that’s part of his charm. On the train, he meets some rather unsavory, but amusing characters, Memel and Mewe, who turn out to be going to the same town as he is. He is, of course, robbed, and arrives at his new job with nothing but the clothes on his back. He meets the majordomo under whom he will serve – hence undermajordomo. They have the most delightful conversations.
Lucy sees the thieves are living within eyesight of his room in the castle, so he goes off to get his pipe, an indulgence he bought for himself that he thought would give him a certain cachet. He meets Memel’s daughter Klara and of course falls in love. The rest of the story includes many misadventures and experiences, dubious, doubtful and dangerous ones. Through them all, there is the tragicomic blend of humor and disaster that is perfectly delightful. There is even a war, but we have no idea who is fighting whom or why, and really, isn’t that the absolute truth of war?
I loved Undermajordomo Minor and recommend it enthusiastically. There’s a touch of the ridiculous about it all that mitigates some of the appalling behavior of many of the characters. Patrick deWitt also wrote The Sisters Brothers which was a wonderful book, though one with much higher stakes than this one. That seems an odd thing to say what with there being suicide, murder, war and attempted murder and the like all going on, but there is this feeling in this book that it will all work out in the end. You never for a moment think it will work out in The Sisters Brothers. But for Lucy, you want it to work out, even if he is a bit of a liar. He’s like a pícaro, a bit of a rogue but just a bit, someone you want to put your hope in, even if he is a leaky bucket.