The Gentleman by Forrest Leo
Penguin Press, 2016. Hardcover, 304 pages.
With a Faust-inspired story line and the humor of an Oscar Wilde* play, The Gentleman crosses many genres with its prose. With its setting in Victorian England, there is a touch of the historical. The addition of a scientist and his flying machine adds a hint of steampunk. But at the heart of the story is a romance masquerading as a mystery anyone, man or woman, can appreciate.
When poet Lionel Savage learns he is broke, he does what many young men in Victorian England does–he looks for an heiress and marries her. However, once married Savage realizes he can no longer write as he lost his inspiration. One fateful day, Savage accidentally conjures up the devil and they become “friends” complete with Savage loaning the devil a book of Tennyson poems. Later that night, Savage’s wife disappears. With her missing, Savage realizes he does love her.
Since Vivien Savage disappeared right after the devil’s appearance, Savage believes he accidentally sold his wife to the devil and he makes plans to rescue her. In his quest he is joined by his loyal butler; his recently suspended from school brazen younger sister; Vivien’s swashbuckling world-traveling brother; his wizened longtime bookseller; and a young scientist. Together they will work together to locate Hell and rescue Vivien, with some humorous happenings on the side.
This novel is so ridiculously absurd that it is hilarious. I understand why the summary on Goodreads likens it to Monty Python. It also likens the book to P.G. Wodehouse, whom I have not read. Because of that hilarity, you will want to keep on reading to see what Savage’s next crazy scheme will be. It helps that the novel is written from Savage’s point of view. I also liked how Leo headed the chapters with titles reminiscent of the era depicted, for example “In Which My Sister Returns Home for Reasons Best Omitted, & I Am Forced to Deliver to Her a Previously Unmentioned Piece of Intelligence.” An additional bit of humor was added via footnotes with comments from Savage’s lawyer/Vivien’s cousin, Hubert, who plays a key role at the novel’s end.
Do you think you will read this novel? Do you have another retelling of the Faust tale to share with us?
My review is based on an advanced reader copy provided by the publisher. The Gentleman will be released on August 16, 2016.
*Specifically, The Importance of Being Ernest came to mind. Also a touch of Shakespeare a la A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.