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Under Major Domo Minor

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Lucy Minor is the resident odd duck in the hamlet of Bury. He is a compulsive liar, a sickly weakling in a town famous for begetting brutish giants. Then Lucy accepts employment assisting the majordomo of the remote, foreboding Castle Von Aux. While tending to his new post as undermajordomo, he soon discovers the place harbours many dark secrets, not least of which is the whereabouts of the castle's master, Baron Von Aux. Thus begins a tale of polite theft, bitter heartbreak, domestic mystery, and cold-blooded murder.

Undermajordomo Minor is an ink-black comedy of manners, an adventure, and a mystery, and a searing portrayal of rural Alpine bad behaviour, but above all it is a love story. And Lucy must be careful, for love is a violent thing.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2015

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About the author

Patrick deWitt

19 books2,231 followers
Patrick deWitt is the author of the novels French Exit (a national bestseller), The Sisters Brothers (a New York Times bestseller short-listed for the Booker Prize), and the critically acclaimed Undermajordomo Minor and Ablutions. Born in British Columbia, he now resides in Portland, Oregon.

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5 stars
3,181 (21%)
4 stars
6,294 (42%)
3 stars
4,141 (27%)
2 stars
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1 star
277 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,970 reviews
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
August 26, 2015
I have no idea why I liked Undermajordomo Minor so much -- it's completely off the wall -- but I loved it. I didn't even particularly like deWitt's previous book -- The Sisters Brothers -- but this time I really fell under the spell of this writer's oddball sensibility. One reviewer compared this book to a Wes Anderson movie -- which is an apt comparison. It doesn't fit neatly into any genre. It's like a very dark fairy tale for adults. It's surreal -- although nothing that happens is magical or entirely impossible. It feels unlocated in any particular place or time -- with elements of the Middle Ages and yet with some modern conveniences and current turns of phrase. The story centres on Lucy -- aka Lucien Minor -- who leaves his mother's home to go be the "under majordomo" in a distant castle. Lucy is oddly sincere and naive -- but not particularly honest or truthful. Essentially, he works in a creepy castle for a crazed Baron, he befriends some village thieves, and gets entangled with a village girl who is already involved with a local charismatic soldier who battling in some obscure war. In this dark dark world, Lucy must go through many trials and tribulations to get the girl. I know this all sounds ridiculous, but it's not about the story but how it's all told. In deadpan and ridiculously skilful prose, deWitt pulled me along, making me chuckle, smile, nod, cringe and every now feel sick to my stomach -- be forewarned, there are a a few disgusting scenes. This book will not be for everyone, but if you are open to extreme quirkiness and silliness, and enjoy delightful turns of phrase, this book is definitely worth a try. Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,729 followers
January 12, 2016
Sometimes a train is just a train. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes a hole is just a hole. Sometimes a book is just meh.


If I were to choose one word for this novel it would be underwhelmed. If I were to choose two words for this novel the second would be cute. Cute works for puppies. It also works for babies. For me, however, cute doesn't work on its own for novels. Well, shit, I guess it isn't on its own. It is also, technically, sitting next to underwhelmed. But, you know what I'm talking about.

Look, I don't want to be too hard on Patrick deWitt. I really liked both Ablutions: Notes for a Novel and The Sisters Brothers. That is why I read the damn thing. And there were parts of it I rather enjoyed. It just seemed a bit too trite, too uneven, boring, and again too cute. Even a burning candle in an ass (I won't delve deeper and ruin the surprise) in this book seems cute. The debauchery of castle elites just isn't what it used to be. The thrill is gone. The castles are now closed. These holes hide no hermits.

So, if you've never read deWitt. Go read 'The Sister Brothers'. It is a better book and keeps the style, but drops the cute.
Profile Image for Melki.
6,037 reviews2,387 followers
September 20, 2015
How remarkable a thing a lie is.

Lucien "Lucy" Minor, a seventeen-year-old champion liar and "unmoored soul in search of nestled safe harbor" leaves home for a position at a remote castle. There, the food will suck, but he will experience "true love, bitterest heartbreak, bright-white terror of the spirit, and an acute homicidal impulse."
The Castle von Aux is a mysterious place, tended by two elderly staffers who serve an unseen master. Left to wonder about the dubious fate of his predecessor, Lucy is warned to lock his bedroom door each night. Apparently, there is a madman on the loose . . .

"You're telling me that there's a madman stalking the halls of the castle at night, is that correct?"

"Stalking," said Mr. Olderglough, shaking his head as he spread marmalade over his bread. "There you go with your theatrical wording again."

"He is not stalking, sir?"

"He is walking."

"But what does he
want?" said Lucy, his voice taking on a shade of exasperation.

"Who can tell? Surely it isn't only one thing."

"And why is that?"

"Because no one wants only one thing."

As calmly as he might, Lucy asked, "Can nothing be done about him?"

"What would you suggest, boy?"

"Expel him?"

"Excellent idea. And do let me know how that pans out for you, eh?"

deWitt's The Sisters Brothers was my favorite book of 2011. Though his latest effort is not a western, but a twisted, humorous fairy tale, there are some similarities - the author's use of formal yet playful language and a main character who is confounded by his circumstances. I loved most of this book and it is indeed among my favorites of this year. At slightly around the halfway point there is a rather disturbing , after which things plummet down a rabbit hole Very Large Hole for a while. The story (and our hero) bounces back nicely, however. It's a strange and intriguing ride, and I'm ready for many, many more lies from this author.
Profile Image for Doug H.
286 reviews
September 26, 2015
Majorly underwhelming, minorly annoying and thoroughly disappointing.

In 2013, I read The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt's comic riff on The Western, and I liked it so much that I gave it 5 stars and recommended it to friends and family full throttle. I accepted its hyperdriven violence as dark comedy and I enjoyed its picaresque story, but what I wound up enjoying most of all were its characters. They were believable even in the midst of the sometimes over-the-top story and they gave the novel a heartbeat. I cared what happened to them.

I therefore had a reasonable expectation that deWitt's riff on The Fable would also be a fun and engaging read. Unfortunately, it's not. Undermajordomo Minor starts off feeling familiar. It begins in a similar picaresque mode. The characters are as quirky as you'd expect. The language is playful and fun. It all seems to be going well. However, the wheels soon start wobbling, the frame starts creaking, and it's not long before the entire thing collapses in on its own cleverness and falls into a Very Large Hole.

I think the main problem is that the characters are not developed fully enough. The first-person narration of The Sisters Brothers gave me a feeling of intimacy and a sense of identification with its protagonist. In this one, the narration is omniscient and comes with an Olde English voice. I admired it and grinned along with it at first, but I soon started thinking it felt too "put on" and amused at its own cleverness. It grew annoying. It also constantly kept me at a distance from the characters and ultimately led me into a state of general disinterest. I didn't care if Lucy would get the girl. I didn't care if Lucy would live or die. The weird food orgy scene just made me think "Really right now?" and "How old are you Patrick deWitt?"

Mostly what I got from this novel was a long-winded episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Don't get me wrong: I used to love Monty Python back in the day. I watched it religiously when it was a half hour TV show. I liked the films too. As a novel, it just seems pretty ridiculous indeed.

Profile Image for Brian.
707 reviews354 followers
October 6, 2021
“…appreciation at life’s small but dependable comforts.”

This is the third Patrick DeWitt novel I have read, and like the others, it is unique and interesting in style and that is probably its biggest selling point. And that is not a bad thing by the way. UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR is a well written quick read, with a clever and slightly absurdist approach to telling a simple story.

The plot…Lucien (Lucy) Minor is offered a job as the under majordomo at Castle Von Aux. His life at home with his mother is pointless, so he accepts. This decision was greatly appreciated by me as it allowed me to meet some interesting characters and read some delightful interactions as Lucy navigates the world he is thrust into when he begins his new career.

This is a novel peopled with charming and quirky characters, and the dry wit and snappy dialogue in this text is oftentimes laugh out loud funny. I loved that aspect of it. Almost every conversation between the Majordomo of the Castle Von Aux, Mr. Olderglough, and Lucy is a jewel. Sharp and witty. Joys to read. They abound with lines like this, “You have annoyed me mildly. It is abating as we speak.”

A consistent thought I kept having while reading this book was that it felt like a movie made by Wes Anderson. Droll, a bit obtuse, absurd, very understated, and yet with an element that grabs you and keeps you in its grasp.

Just a sampling of quotes from the text that stuck with me, for various reasons.
• “You always bring God into arguments you know you are losing, for the liar is lonely, and welcomes all manner of company.”
• “A marvel: how can the days be so full of someone wholly absent?”
• “It was as though you had been waiting for it all along; as if you’d known it was approaching, and so when it arrives you reach out to greet it with an innate familiarity.”
• “I woke up in a foul mood this morning, and the world’s been against me ever since.”
• “…how curious life was, how unfathomably novel, and occasionally, wonderful.”
• “It is a fine and clean and just-born day. There has never been a day quite like today.”
• “Ah, but his greeds and desires got away from him, as greeds and desires are wont to do.”

I enjoyed UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR immensely, except for a scene of sexual fetish whose point I did not get. Perhaps it was meant to demonstrate the depravity of the characters involved, but I was not a fan. It hangs over the book in an uncomfortable manner.

All in all, a good story simply told, but yet very well done. It is mostly dialogue, and the banter is one of the novel’s main joys. I will probably reread this book again at some point. And I will definitely read the one novel of Mr. DeWitt’s that (to date) I have not yet read.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,900 reviews534 followers
May 16, 2022
This is a very strange book, like a tongue in cheek fairytale full of eccentric characters, dark humor, silliness and sudden violence. It's set in an unspecified country where there's an endless war, the occasional orgy and The Very Large Hole. The inhabitants are always very polite, until they're not. The protagonist is Lucien (Lucy) Minor, 17 years old. He is hired by Myron Olderlough, the majordomo of the estate of Baron Von Aux. A hiring that led to "true love, bitterest heartbreak, bright-white terror of the spirit, and an acute homicidal impulse".

I enjoyed this book, but I suggest reading a sample before you buy it. The author is fully committed to a very stylized writing style. If you don't like the sample, the rest of the book probably won't be a happy experience for you.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 21 books290 followers
March 14, 2015
Undermajordomo Minor begins where The Sisters Brothers leaves off: with a son saying goodbye to his mother. The title is a joke in The Sisters Brother mold. Lucy Minor gets a job working for the Majordomo of a castle that has fallen into disrepair, which makes him the Undermajorodomo. It's a story filled with strange violence, vivid scenes and elegant language. If The Sister Brothers is like a Coen Brothers movie, then Undermajordomo Minor is akin to a Wes Anderson film. Or, better yet, Franz Kafka's The Castle written by Tom Stoppard and performed by the players of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Perhaps that's overselling it, as I love all of those things. The novel is set in a time that often feels medieval (there's no electric light or indoor plumbing), yet there are trains (a train). The way the characters speak to one another is mannered and breezy, and much of the novel's wit, humor and elan stems from odd, but never off-putting, loquaciousness of the locals. It just occurred to me that this would work very nicely as a play. It would be great fun to sit in a theater and listen to actors bounce these wonderful sentences around.
Profile Image for Michelle F.
232 reviews71 followers
March 21, 2022
'He was mourning the fact that there was nothing much to mourn at all, he decided.'

Smart humour and odd atmosphere are the big draws here and they delighted me. As I progressed, though, and certainly as I finished, I couldn't really see the point of it all.

I'll admit my buddy-reader actively disliked this book and maybe some of his disdain actually landed on me. I like the fairy tale feel, and it really is very clever. It turns out that the story-line is just as absurd as its presentation, however, and I began tiring of it early on.

I can recognize solid writing, though, and could feel the fun that DeWitt was having. I take this as an example of his diversity in stylistic approaches, and can applaud it without ever wanting to read it again.

Also, a lot if us are using 'fairy tale' in our reviews. Don't read this with your kids, folks. Just...really. Don't.
Profile Image for Tony.
919 reviews1,555 followers
February 28, 2016
Well, that was quick. Quick because the storyline intrigued. Quick because there are short chapters, mostly dialogue, and a considerable amount of empty pages. Quick because it was hilarious.

Patrick deWitt, whom I hadn't read before but now will, has a gift for dialogue, using it to invent not just characters but his own time and place.

Two men are arguing:

"I saw the sun set thousands of times before you drew your first breath."
"And so?"
"I was entering women when you were still soiling your short pants."
"And so?"
"I slit a man's throat before you could milk a cow."
"I still can't milk a cow."

Our hero -- and he is our hero -- is being given his instructions for his employment by the wonderfully drawn Mr. Olderglough:

"Compromise is a plague of sorts, would you agree, yes or no?"
"I don't know that I've thought of it before, sir."
"A man accepts an inferior cup of tea, telling himself it is only a small thing. But what comes next? Do you see?"
"I suppose, sir."
"Very good. Now. After my breakfast, you will return to find your own breakfast awaiting you in the scullery. Do not forget to compliment Agnes's fare, even if the fare does not warrant it."
"I understand."
"The fare will not warrant it."

There is a smirking butcher and a kindly priest. There are pickpockets and an insane baron. There is a castle with The Very Large Hole. There is an orgy. A pestle and a salami both figure prominently, only one of them in the orgy. There is Love: "It is a glory and a torment." And there is a war: "I wonder what they were fighting about."

It is hard to believe I will smile more this reading year.
Profile Image for Peter.
503 reviews608 followers
August 3, 2016
"The Very Large Hole was very, very large."

I heard Undermajordomo Minor referred to as a 'deconstructed fairytale' and I can't think of a more fitting description. This story has all the components of those legendary fables but it confounds expectations and winks at the genre's clichés in a playful and considerably more adult fashion.

The action takes place in an unnamed European country, with a backdrop straight out of the Brothers Grimm. Lucien 'Lucy' Minor, our so-called hero, is yearning for adventure. He takes up his only offer of employment, the position of undermajordomo (basically a butler's assistant) in a distant castle belonging to one Baron von Aux. But he soon learns that this job is not what it seems. The creaky old castle is in a state of disrepair, the mysterious Baron is nowhere to be seen and the remaining staff are off their collective rocker. And that's not to mention the Baron's absent wife, the Very Large Hole and the alluring Klara from the local village. If Lucy is seeking adventure, he has certainly found it.

What I loved most about this charming novel was the delicious dialogue. Not only is the castle itself a cross between Fawlty Towers and The Grand Budapest Hotel, the hilarious repartee stands up to the comparison of those wonderful comedic creations too. And some of the set-pieces are so madcap (e.g. the unforgettable dinner party), I expected Basil and Manuel to come bounding in at any second. The characters are intriguing because of their flaws and not in spite of them - Lucy's friend Memel is an unashamed thief who regards stealing as an art-form, and Lucy himself is compulsive liar who takes great pride in delivering a enormous fib:
“Walking away on the springy legs of a foal he thought, How remarkable a thing a lie is. He wondered if it wasn't man's finest achievement, and after some consideration, he decided it was.”

The pace never lets up - this is a story that can be read in a single sitting and indeed I found it difficult to stop myself devouring it. And while it doesn't quite have the heft of deWitt's Booker-shortlisted The Sisters Brothers, it is a hugely entertaining and irresistible caper from a delightfully absurd imagination.
Profile Image for Donna.
543 reviews182 followers
November 22, 2015
Exhaling sharply, she clapped the book shut and said, "I for one find it an annoyance when a story doesn't do what it's meant to do. Don't you, boy?"
"I'm not sure I understand what you mean, ma'am."
"Do you not appreciate a little entertainment?"
"I do."
"And would you not find yourself resentful at the promise of entertainment unfulfilled?"
"I believe I would, ma'am."
"There we are, then."
"Here we are," Lucy agreed.

I couldn't agree more with the above sentiment. But how ironic it was that the author included this exchange in his book, considering his own story didn't do what it was supposed to do. Actually, the story never had much of a chance when competing for attention with the writing used to convey it.

It was obvious that the author had a great time constructing weird characters who found themselves in weird situations speaking to each other in weird dialogue. But weird only takes a reader so far. Weird isn't a substitute for character or story development, not in a full length novel. This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy all the weirdness because I did. I just felt cheated out of a real story that had something important to say, one that didn't meander for half the book so the weirdness could flourish unchecked. Call me weird, but I want to read a story that actually goes somewhere instead of it screeching to a halt to build a stage for staged dialogue and events.

Still, there was a bit of a story in here. It concerned a wish the main character made near the beginning of the book. All he wanted was for something to happen in his boring life before it ended. What followed was the result of that wish. Though at it's heart, this is a coming of age story for Lucien Minor, aged 17, the product of a callous father and an emotionally distant mother. Lucy, as Lucien is known, feels it's time he left home, this decision coming on the heels of a traumatic experience. In the aftermath, the local minister has taken pity on him and secured him the position of assistant to the majordomo at Castle Von Aux where a reclusive Baron resides.

I had high hopes for the story at this point since it seemed the author would delve into Lucy's tormented psyche. Unloved by his parents, friendless, and feeling like an outsider, Lucy was ripe to be explored, but after some initial probing, it was not to be to any degree. Instead, a mostly one dimensional Lucy embarked on an adventure. He arrived at Castle Von Aux and met a group of strange people who would affect him for good or bad on his road to adulthood. In the beginning, Lucy was excited about his new position as undermajordomo, but he soon learned that all wasn't right at Castle Von Aux, especially so where the Baron was concerned. What followed was a wacky succession of events that had me scratching my head or raising my eyebrows, especially during a very disturbing scene in a ballroom and an unbelievable ordeal in a mysterious cavern.

This book is different, though. I'll give it that much. What distinguished this story filled with dark humor from others of its kind was the style in which it was written, almost as if this were a play instead of a regular novel. The exchanges between the characters were purposefully written in a way that was stilted and artificial to produce this effect, the story devolving into both a comedy of errors and a comedy of manners. Here are two examples of what you can expect, page after page, should you read this book:

The Count and Countess stared at Lucy.
"Did you know he was in the room?" the Count asked.
"I did not," said the Countess.
"Nor I."
"I wish I had known."
"As do I."
" I knocked before entering," said Lucy.
The Count said, "I heard nothing like a knock."
"Neither did I," said the Countess.
"You should knock harder," said the Count.
"I'm sorry, sir," said Lucy.
"Or offer a verbal greeting."
"I didn't want to disturb you."
"But you've done that, haven't you?" said the Countess.

"You smell like a salami, boy."
"Yes, and I'm sorry about that ma'am."
"It's something you're aware of then?" she asked.
"Oughtn't you do something about it?"
"I surely will, ma'am."
"It is not insurmountable. One doesn't have to smell like a salami if one doesn't wish it."
"No, you're absolutely right, ma'am."
"Fine," she said.

I couldn't help laughing while typing out these exchanges, but what I appreciated about them in the beginning wore thin by the halfway mark as they continued in a relentless manner, all the way to the end of this book.

So why did I give this book three stars if I've done nothing but complain about it? The technical aspects of the writing were good, and the story, such as it was, kept me turning the pages which were filled with dark humor that often made me smile even as I grimaced at what it led to later on. This book was inventive and never let up, never deviated from the world the author built, which took a boatload of talent. If only the author had explored his characters more and had them evolve along the way, along with the story. Instead, he relied on a gimmick to dazzle the reader away from the fact that nothing much happens in this book in which much happens. If you like, read it for the novelty of the experience and the dark humor. As long as you're not expecting more, it might entertain you for a while.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,492 reviews2,372 followers
February 28, 2023

Compared to deWitt's wild west The Sisters Brothers & Bukowski-esque Ablutions this is a very odd novel. Set in an unknown place and time - presumably an alpine region of Europe - it's kind of a fairy-tale love story, but one that never really ignites. Filled with absurdism and dark comedy there were some entertaining wild-goose chase scenario side stories featuring a bunch of quirky characters; from train engineers and thieves to partisans, which worked quite well, whilst the mad Baron and Baroness were also fun to be around. But Klara the peasant girl and Lucien the majordomo assistant, who you'd think are shaped to be the focal point, are never explored deep enough for me. It's a novel I found where the side characters made all the difference. Castle Von Aux, the place of Lucien's employment has some strange goings on, mostly during the night, which gave it a bit mystery. There is a bit of adventure too when Lucien - simply known as Lucy - falls into a large hole, meets two others; one being the guy he replaced at the castle, and they set off looking to escape. I found its overall structure a bit too muddlesome, and tonally I wasn't that convinced either. As with anything I give a three star rating to there were things I liked about and things I didn't. Playful, peculiar, amusing and easy to read, but flawed.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,481 reviews7,778 followers
February 3, 2022

Why yes I do! It’s this story right here, in fact.

Despite The Sisters Brothers having a spot on my TBR for an age, I never got around to reading it. Luckily, this came along . . . .

With a recommendation of Undermajordomo Minor that ended up being such an unexpected delight.

The story here is about a young man named Lucy (short for Lucien) who takes a position at the Castle Von Aux as – you guessed it – the Undermajordomo. The details of his employment are sketchy at best, with little talk about what he will be paid or when he will be paid it, but the rules are pretty clear. Be in your room by 10:00 and don’t forget to lock the door. The Baron of the castle is to know nothing about his employment as well, and if olde times, a creepy castle and a Baron make you fondly recall your time with What We Do In The Shadows . . . . .

Like it did me, you’re not far off the mark. What follows is the story of Lucy’s tenure at the castle – full of adventure, thievery, sexual exploits, murder and . . . .

I most likely would have never picked this up weren’t it for the library’s recommendation, but I’m so glad I did.
Profile Image for Annet.
570 reviews735 followers
August 7, 2016
Beautiful in its weirdness....
Great writer. Out of the box. A surreal darkish fairytale...
Lucien (Lucy) Minor accepts a position at a remote castle of the Baron Von Aux, assisting the majordomo. And a strange story unfolds, where he meets some weird and colorful characters.
Like his previous book The Sister Brothers, only quite different.
Different from lets say the 'mainstream' of books. Fascinating and weird!

Undermajordomo Minor wears a fairytale cloak, but at its wondrous and fantastical heart lies an unexpectedly moving story about love, home and the difficulty of finding one's place in the world. (Emily St. John Mandel).

Undermajordomo Minor is a riotous blend of Gothic romance and macabre European fairy tale. An ink-black comedy of manners and a timeless account of that violent thing: love.

In front of the book: It is a very painful thing, having to part company with what torments you. And how mute the world is! - Robert Walser
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,529 reviews978 followers
November 2, 2015

This is the story of a boy named Lucy who got bored (and more than a little scared by the supernatural apparition of a 'man in burlap') in his small village in the middle of nowhere and who went out into the wild world in search of adventure:

Lucy, having nothing better to do, and nowhere in the world to be, and feeling vulnerable at the thought of the man in burlap's return, embraced his fate and wrote back to Mr. Olderglough, formally accepting the offer, a decision which led to many things, including but not limited to true love, bitterest heartbreak, bright-white terror of the spirit, and an acute homicidal impulse.

Mr. Olderglough's job offer to the young Lucien Minor is to come to an ancient castle and take up the position of his assistant. Since Mr. Olderglough is the castle's majordomo, we are now able to get to the bottom of the novel's title. Patrick de Witt exercises thus again his wit and his delight in puns, just as he did in his first book, "The Sister Brothers". Another carry over from his debut novel is the style of presentation : whimsical, infused with droll humour that is in stark contrast with the gloomy and even bloodthirsty content.

The Castle Von Aux stood a half mile beyond the station; Lucy could make out a broad, crenellated outer curtain wall and two conical towers. It was built on a sloping base of a mountain range, standing gray-black against the snow - a striking setting, but there was something chilling about it also. Lucy thought it was somehow too sheer, too beautiful.

Basically, the story of Lucy is a modern fairytale that goes back to the original horror roots of the Grimm Brother's folktales, bypassing the Dysney bowdlerization. The modernity of the story is hinted at in the author's introduction, where he pays homage to his favorite writers that inspired and influenced his writing: Thomas Bernhard, Ivy Compton Burnett, Italo Calvino, Robert Coover, Roald Dahl, J P Donleavy, Knut Hamsun, Sammy Harkham, Werner Herzog, Bohumil Hrabal, Shirley Jackson, Par Lagerkvist, Harry Matthews, Stephen Millhauser, Jean Rhys, Robert Walser, Eudora Welty.

Although I am not familiar with all the names of this list (and I plan to remedy this situation soon), I have read enough of these authors to be able to argument that Patrick de Witt has absorbed, distilled and refreshed the rules of the post-modernist fairytale. Even if it not mentioned in the ntroduction of the author, I have another comparison that will probably give readers a hint of what they are letting themselves in for: Wes Anderson's "Grand Budapest Hotel", a movie I have seen a couple of months before reading the present novel. To quote Lucy on what kind of new experiences he's going through:

Frankly, ma'am, most everyone I've met since I've left home is peculiar to me in one way or another.

The plot is also reminiscent of Anderson's elaborate and unusual constructions : It follows some manner of logic is an apt desciption that doesn't give too many clues away.

In this strange and wonderful world, Lucy Minor manages to make some friends, and even to fall in love. In the village near the castle, there's a trio of thieves / confidence tricksters who welcome the boy: Memel, Mewe and Klara the Beguiler. In the castle there's a dark secret and a doomed love story. A mysterious creature is haunting the cold corridors of stone at night, thirsty for blood, moaning in pain. Lucy is well advised to keep his bedroom door locked. The revelations, when they come, will be both humorous and horrifying:

Why do you have a salami in your sleeve?

All's well that ends well, and since this is a fairytale, there's a good chance Lucy will come out of it wiser and better prepared to face the dangers of a wild world. As he confesses to one of the priests from his former village:

"As it happens, I'm chasing after a girl, Father. For it has come to pass that I've fallen in love."
"In love, you say?"
"Just so."
"And what is that like? I've often wondered about it."
"It is a glory and a torment."
"Really? Would you not recommend it, then?"
" I would recommend it highly. Just to say it's not for the faint of heart."

Good luck, Mr. Undemajordomo Minor! I hope you will return in a future sequel. If not, good luck finding your girl and make sure you keep a good hold on love when you have the chance, because you don't know when it will cross your path again...

And thank you Mr. de Witt for an intelligent, funny and heartwarming story that turned out to be my favorite Halloween read in October 2015. I loved your epigram for the boy named Lucy:

His heart was a church of his own choosing,
and the lights came through
the colorful windows.

Profile Image for Dianne.
567 reviews934 followers
January 9, 2016
Very offbeat and entertaining "fairy tale" that plays out like a Wes Anderson movie (think "The Grand Budapest Hotel"). I loved the main character Lucien (Lucy) Minor and the odd, unpredictable dialogue and characters. The problem for me was I kept waiting for a POINT. An explanation of everything going on. Logic. Purpose. Resolution.

Uh uh.

Never happened. It's a journey just for the journey's sake - and a very strange journey it is! Whether or not you enjoy it depends on your tolerance for silliness, debauchery, and eccentricity. I quite liked it, but could have done without a scene about 2/3 of the way through the book. If you've read it, you know the scene I mean!

Mostly good, oddball fun.

Profile Image for Sam Quixote.
4,541 reviews12.9k followers
February 29, 2016
In a rural mountain area in an unknown part of the world (mainland Europe?) at an unknown point of time (mid-19th century?), a young man called Lucien Minor nearly dies from a terrible illness before his life has even begun. He miraculously survives, resolves to have something happen in his boring life and is subsequently appointed as the assistant to the Majordomo of the Castle Von Aux - an Undermajordomo - where his wish will be granted. Thieves, maidens, warriors, demented aristocrats await - and what is stalking the castle’s corridors in the night…?

Patrick DeWitt’s third novel, Undermajordomo Minor, is as successful as his previous two without retreading old ground. This book is part love story, part Bildungsroman, and part gothic fairy tale - and something else which I’ll mention at the end as it’s a spoiler and I’m keeping the main review spoiler-free.

While the book starts slowly, things pick up once Lucy (a name you’ll have to keep reminding yourself is the shortened name of the MALE protagonist) makes it to the castle. The overall look of the place feels like Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast with its gothic sprawl and hint of menace. But the best part of the book is the comedy of manners mainly between Lucy and his new boss Mr Olderglough whose banter is pure delight.

Mr Olderglough and Lucy’s interactions and the surroundings made me think of Wes Anderson’s last movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, as well as DeWitt having Anderson-ian interludes. Mr Olderglough tells Lucy at the end of one chapter, “Tomorrow we must locate, apprehend, and restore to normality the Baron” followed by an interlude entitled The Location, Apprehension, and Restoration to Normality of The Baron. It has the same wry tone and quirky approach to narrative which I loved being a Wes Anderson fan.

Though it is a coming of age story with elements of gothic fairy tales, Undermajordomo Minor is predominantly a romance as Lucy falls in love with local village girl Klara. Though the courtship is pleasant, it’s very conventional in its development as is how Klara is written, which is one of the few criticisms of the book (which might be intentional as I mention in the spoiler). She’s a wallflower, viewed more as a prize for men, who feels quite content to be that way.

That said, all of the women characters are written in a way as to suggest they’re better off without men. If you see them by themselves, they function well - if not better - without them while the men, when left by their women, regress to a primal state. The Baron becomes feral, Adolphus (Lucy’s rival for Klara) goes to war, and men do terrible things to ensure their women love only them.

I’m not sure what the commentary here is - love is a terrible thing? It’s the driving force behind all motivations in this book and bad things do happen here. There’s also the Freudian Very Large Hole which plays a big part in the plot. Men disappear into The Very Large Hole and are never seen again. Is the Hole representative of women and is DeWitt saying that once a man falls for a woman he’s doomed? It certainly seems that way for quite a few of the male characters.

And then there’s THAT scene - you’ll know it when you come across it - involving the tart. It seems like the men are generally written as lascivious, simplistic children and the women as their quietly suffering but tolerant and far more sophisticated keepers. It’s quite a negative view of love and relationships!

I really enjoyed the novel though. It’s very entertaining and amusing, the dialogue is very sharp, I liked how the setting is vague and things just exist without explanation - why is there a Very Large Hole in the middle of nowhere, what is the war being fought about, why is there no money in this fiefdom, where and when is this all taking place; we never find out. The characters are very charming and, though I wouldn’t call it a plot-driven story, the book barrels along at a steady clip (though there are lots of short chapters, white space, and blank pages, so it’s not nearly as long as its 336 pages suggests).

Patrick DeWitt does for the gothic romance in Undermajordomo Minor what he did for the western in The Sisters Brothers, refreshing it for a contemporary audience by telling a very good story in its genre. If you’ve enjoyed the author’s previous two books, you’ll definitely like Undermajordomo Minor.

Profile Image for Matt Quann.
652 reviews388 followers
April 24, 2019
Of all the many joys present in deWitt's new novel Undermajordomo Minor, its greatest trait is that it is relentlessly funny. In the same vein as deWitt's much-acclaimed predecessor, The Sisters Brothers (which remains a personal favourite), Undermajordomo Minor delights in word play, finely crafted dialogue, all while providing a moving literary love story. Rather than forcing comedy, the novel's dialogue is the most reliable source of humour, reflecting hilarity in the characters' nature. The novel is filled to the brim with an eclectic cast that finds themselves in situations that become increasingly absurd but entirely believable under deWitt's deft pen.

It is best not to know much about the story, save that Lucien Minor is leaving his hometown to take up the position of Undermajordomo at a castle. Along the way he meets delightful and memorable characters, and even manages to find himself falling in love. Through struggles in his new employment and the vagaries of love, Lucy leads the reader on a journey not like any other. I found my face pulled in permanent smiles throughout the read. I relished the naturalistic dialogue, the peculiar situations, love made more complex by others' plans, and took in the beautifully turned phrases with reverence. This novel is a delight and, indeed, one of the strongest books I've read in a year in which I've read many outstanding books. Fans of The Sisters Brothers or deWitt initiates will revel in this novel. I certainly did, and it made for a lovely cap on my Christmas day. Read this, you won't be sorry that you did.
Profile Image for LA Cantrell.
424 reviews553 followers
December 30, 2016
Call me an eye-rolling, disappointed prude, go ahead. I *almost* DNF at 66% but pressed on. Didn't really improve. I adored The Sisters Brothers BIG TIME (truly, big time) and pre-ordered the hardback of this book. It arrived this summer, and just before I could get going with it, a trusted friend told me that it was likely I would be disappointed. He and I have huge agreement on book selections and impressions, so I sat it out for six months.

Doug was right.

The book is quirky and is set in some European location where people do not yet drive cars and still go to castles for employment. Cool! The 17-year-old boy protagonist has an otherworldly experience at the beginning of the book, and I was enchanted.

The story seemed a little like Great Expectations which was fine - The Goldfinch was like that too. Then a YA love story, a creepy night time mad man, and an ensuing visit by noblemen and wives cropped up.

Hmmm - maybe I could just hand this over to my 13 year old and therefore get my $20 worth, right? NOOOOOOOO. Oh my God, no!

A porcinely obese couple lead two other pairs of married nobles in a tarte-smearing, salami-beating, face-slapping orgy of copulation in the ballroom, then politely retire for cigars. Cigars which were lit from a candle inserted in the anus of their hostess, the baroness. Im thinking TART and BALL and SALAMI and CIGAR were written with a wink, but how sophomoric is that?? Look, I rolled with the nasty ass sex in A Feast of Snakes and in the less graphic but more profane The Death of Sweet Mister because it was an important part of who the characters were and for the overall plot. This?? It was just voyeuristic grotesquery in my opinion.

Had I given a darn about the kid, maybe Id have stuck it out more happily, but pressed on hoping for improvement (and out of my neurotic resolve to finish anything Im half way through). Nope. All I could think was WTF was this author smoking? Huge disappointment.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,669 reviews2,664 followers
October 10, 2015
What The Sisters Brothers did for the Western, this does for the Gothic fairytale. It’s not quite as fun or successful as the previous book, but has a nicely campy Dracula or Jane Eyre feel. Lucien “Lucy” Minor survived pneumonia thanks to a folk figure who transferred the illness to his father. Now of age, this compulsive liar sets out to find adventure and romance as the undermajordomo of a castle in the quaint German countryside. Here he meets pickpockets, a periodically insane baron, a randy maiden, and a strapping rival who’s a soldier in the absurdist local conflict.

DeWitt’s understated humor is not as clearly on display here, though I did like the description of a pet bird as “deeply antisocial.” There’s also, strangely, quite a bit of sex – boy, does that scene come out of nowhere. Read it if you like your Brothers Grimm with a splash of silliness and a whole lot of lasciviousness.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,189 reviews1,687 followers
November 23, 2015
What type of book IS Undermajordomo anyway? Is it an old-fashioned adventure tale? A dark fairy tale (think: Brothers Grimm)? A serio-comedy narrative in the vein of his earlier work, Sisters Brothers?

It’s hard to define, exactly, but I will say this: for a reader like me, who leans towards strong character-driven or theme-based novels, I was a bit out of my comfort zone and that was just fine. The strong writing and the plot kept me eagerly turning pages and I surrendered to DeWitt’s talent.

The main character is Lucien Minor (consistently called Lucy), an earnest and naïve young man. Spindly and pale, and – at the very beginning – at risk of dying – he sees a shadowed man who asks him what he wants out of life. His answer: “Something to happen.”

The rest of the book explores what DOES happen as he goes into service to the Majordomo, Mr. Olderglough, a good-hearted man who has a tenuous grasp of reality. The characters of an adventure tale are all here – a mad love-sick baron (who reminded me a bit of the “crazy wife in the attic” from Jane Eyre), an extraordinarily handsome and potentially dangerous soldier, two sneaky (but redemptive) thieves, and of course, the fair maiden who gives Lucy a reason to live.

We don’t know exactly where and when this tale takes place (think: Ishiguro’s Buried Giant) but it feels somehow familiar, somehow knowable. There was a point over half-way through – a scene of debauchery – where I began wondering, “Where is the heart of the story? It’s a fine “read”, but what do I take away from it?”

On reflection, I had my answer. The book is about life itself. As the majordomo himself says, “What are rooms for if not entering, after all. Or else exiting. Indeed, think of how many rooms we enter and exit in our span of days, boy. Room to room to room. And we call it a life.” A life – defined in this book – is when something happens and we show up for it. Patrick DeWitt delivers again.

Profile Image for Paul.
Author 114 books8,845 followers
September 27, 2015
Patrick De Witt is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. UNDER is such a fun, dark, and deep fairy tale that isn't a fairy tale. Impeccible voice and timing and a sense of how story can take us into a different world. Beautiful and brutal and hopeful. Loved it.
Profile Image for Manochehr.Zare.
497 reviews26 followers
August 31, 2021
یعنی یه خدا پدر بیامرزی تو اون نشر هیرمند پیدا نشد به طراح و مدیر نشر بگه تمام کتابها تو طراحی جلد مشکل دارن؟ پشت همه‌ی کتابهای نشر هیرمند قیمت شرح کوتاه کتاب رفته تو عکس نویسنده :))))

این کتاب به احتمال زیاد لغو مجوز شده
چون هم کمیابه و هم شامل قسمت‌هایی هست که واقعا چاپش در ایران عجیبه و منو به شدت یاد اولیس جیمز جویز میندازه
فرض کنید شخصیت داستان برای عشقبازی و ... برنامه هفتگی می‌ریزه :)))

از خوندنش اندازه برادران سیسترز لذت نبردم به دو دلیل : ترجمه بی نقص نبود و سیر داستان از صفحه‌ی ۱۱۰ به بعد تازه جذاب میشه
Profile Image for Pat.
49 reviews4 followers
October 19, 2015
Underwhelming. All quirk, no substance.

The Sisters Brothers gave me hope in DeWitt as an intelligent, creative, daring new writer, but this book has obliterated any faith I had in his authorial capabilities. The premise had promise, but the whole "dark, surreal adult-fairy tale" proved to be a gimmick as DeWitt failed to deliver any substantial morals or lessons, which is typically the point of fairy tales and black comedy, or really any creative artifice that's worth anyone's time.

This brings up my biggest gripe with the book: there's no point. There's no sense to the structure, there's minimal character development, and the plot just sort of... ends. You could perhaps argue that by the end Lucy had grown a spine and learned how to assert himself, but ultimately there's no distinct change in his person, in fact he ends up in the same place, both physically, emotionally, and mentally, as he was at the beginning. Well, perhaps emotionally, he has discovered Love, that great, terrible, beautiful tragedy lying at the heart of nearly all the primary and auxiliary character's motives. Which is fine, I guess, except neither DeWitt, nor his characters, make any interesting or original observations about Love. He portrays it simultaneously as an intoxicating and destructive force, capable of inspiring men (specifically Men, of course) to terrific heights and dreadful downfalls, and this in no way is particularly compelling, interesting, thoughtful, profound, or any number of generous adjectives I could string together.

Furthermore, the structure and plot make little sense. Many of the plot events are pretty predictable, but even then they happen for seemingly little reason or purpose. It's like random ideas just popped into his head and he said "fuck it, yeah Patrick that's a damn good idea" and jotted it down. Characters are just left behind or forgotten about and so many details about this curious, vaguely/lazily historical world are left unfulfilled. I think he really did have some great ideas, but so many are inadequately fleshed out that whatever half-baked messages he had hoped to convey are lost in the noise of incoherent whimsy.

Continuing my acerbic thoughts on this work, I'd like to briefly discuss DeWitt's promising but flaccid grip of our English language. He's proved that he has a strength for clever, offbeat dialogue, and his characters occasionally happen to say strangely insightful tidbits, but his style is pretty weak overall. His generally agreeable vocabulary is occasionally and delicately punctuated with impressive polysyllabic synonyms, to show that, yes, I too do have access to a thesaurus, but these erudite word choices feel either uncharacteristic, out of place, or flat out wrong. Numerous were the times I had to set the book down to scratch my head and ask: "was that really the best word to use there?" If you're going to indulge, and force your readers to indulge with you, in your predilection for fancy-ass diction, at least make sure it doesn't interrupt the narrative flow, or that it actual suits uneducated village peasants.

This concludes my rant. God damn it I am so disappointed. Skip this book, it's kinda funny and quirky and cute but holy shit it's so unfulfilling. If you only like to consume media to be "amused" for 3-4 hours, then golly this is the book for you. On the other hand, if you actually like to be challenged, or moved, or to actually critically reflect upon any or all aspects of human existence and civilization, then skip this inchoate mess.
Profile Image for Celise.
505 reviews318 followers
November 22, 2017
Odd, and oddly charming.

This is the second book I have read by Patrick deWitt, and with both I have been so thoroughly entertained by the uniqueness of both his writing style and stories. You never quite know where his characters are going or the places they'll visit along the way, or what the events in the middle really mean to the story except to create the weird, dark, disturbing, and somewhat nostalgic-feeling atmosphere. This being said, it does not linger or drag in any place.

I think this is a great book to try if you're looking for something unusual to break up your reading habits.

I would love to see this as a screenplay. What an unusually compelling movie that would be (in my opinion).

Profile Image for Chelsey.
246 reviews113 followers
June 15, 2015
I tried, I swear. I wanted to like this so much, but it relies heavily on a sense of humour that just doesn't resonate with me and I had to drag myself through it. If you love The Princess Bride or Monty Python, you will love this much more than I did. It's a witty and well written novel, but sadly just wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Kyleen.
167 reviews10 followers
October 15, 2015
p. 201:

"I for one find it an annoyance when a story doesn't do what it's meant to do. Don't you, boy?"

"I'm not sure I understand what you mean, ma'am."

"Do you not appreciate an entertainment?"

"I do."

"And would you not find yourself resentful at the promise of entertainment unfulfilled?"

"I believe I would, ma'am."

"There we are, then."

"We are here," Lucy agreed.

Yes, here we are.
Profile Image for Ray.
588 reviews111 followers
August 6, 2020
A boy enters service in a castle.

The castle has seen better days. The castellan is a grumpy old man in threadbare clothes, and the only other staff member is an incompetent cook. The master of the house is a recluse, and the mistress of the house left long ago.

The boy is told to keep his door locked. He soon finds out why, as someone, or something, tries to get into his room on his third night there.

Outside the castle is a ramshackle village. The boy meets (or re-meets, as they had a passing acquaintance on the train on the way to the castle) a couple of incorrigible thieves and finds he rather likes them. He really really likes the older thieves daughter too.

Oh, and there is a low level war going on around the castle and in the woods and mountains beyond.

The boy hides behind the curtains in the castle ballroom at a dinner party, and probably wishes he hadn't. Its amazing what you can do with a fruit tart.

This has the feel of a fairy tale. Told in staccato sentences and short chapters. I found it captivating, and funny and wise, and just a little sad.

Well worth a read.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,922 reviews386 followers
April 25, 2016
Hindsight is 20/20. I should have re-read a fairy tale or two before tackling Undermajordomo Minor. I think it would have been useful to have the fairy tale structure in my head to compare to this work.

I do love the way deWitt plays with names. His outlaws with the surname Sisters in The Sisters Brothers and now Lucien Minor who takes on the position of Undermajordomo in this novel.

I snorted when the Majordomo, Mr. Olderglough, says, “I find the constant upkeep of the body woefully fatiguing, don’t you?” I have been known the claim that if I did everything every day that all of my health care professionals recommend that I do, I’d have no time to go to work. Perhaps I exaggerate a trifle. Perhaps.

Alas, I find that I don’t fully connect with Mr. DeWitt’s writing somehow—I like his work, but I always come away feeling that I’ve missed something crucial which would have transformed them into a fabulous experience.
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
617 reviews767 followers
March 9, 2016
Hugh Walpole and Robert Walser on the happy pills collaborate to write the screenplay to The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Robert Walser must have come off his meds for one or two scenes.
"..Woe betide those who trifle with Eros, eh?"
"I suppose."
"Cupid is well armed, and so must we be, isn't that so?"
"It is so."

Love: not for the faint of heart.
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