Reviews > Published on September 14th, 2015

Bookshots: 'Undermajordomo Minor' By Patrick deWitt

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Undermajordomo Minor

Who wrote it?

If you’re willing to take a chance and push beyond your literary comfort zone, you’re going to be very happy to have picked up 'Undermajordomo Minor.'

Man Booker short-listed, best-selling novelist, Patrick deWitt.

Plot in a Box:

Interesting as a cardboard box gadfly, Lucien ‘Lucy’ Minor receives an appointment to the foreboding and distant Castle Von Aux to become the “under” majordomo of the massive estate. Hilarity, unquenchable fear, and murder occurs.

Invent a new title for this book:

Would You Like A Puppy?

Read this if you liked:

Civilwarland In Bad Decline By George Saunders, pretty much anything by Kurt Vonnegut, and the more surrealist films of the Coen Brothers

Meet the book’s lead:

Lucy Minor: Liar, under majordomo, and an absolute legend in his own mind.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Nicholas Hoult (Yeah, he’s the kid from Mad Max who says What a day! What a lovely day!)

Setting: would you want to live there?

Castle Von Aux? Oh, God, no!

What was your favorite sentence/passage?

‘Would you like a puppy, Lucy?'

‘Oh, no, thank you.’

‘You’re certain?’


‘Well,’ he said, ‘this simply won’t do.’ He picked up the puppy with white boots and left the room. An uneasy feeling visited Lucy; he followed Memel and found him standing at a water barrel beside the front door, his arm submerged to the elbow.

‘If the mother dies, then they all will,’ he said regarding the black water with a look of grave determination. long moments passed, and when he slipped his arm from the water, there was nothing in hand. He returned to his room and re-emerged with another puppy, making once more for the water barrel. Why this was being carried out in Lucy’s presence, and just prior to eating, Lucy could not fathom. Whatever the reason, he felt impelled to intervene. When he spoke, he was not motivated by any one thought or combination of words, but in response to a kind of pain, much in the way one involuntarily cries out after being injured:

‘Stop it,’ he said. ‘If it’s come to this, then I’ll take him.’

Memel came nearer and deposited the puppy in Lucy’s palm. ‘Her,’ he said, and moved to the table to ladle out the stew.

The Verdict:

As I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed Patrick deWitt’s three novels over the last five years, my brain can’t help but keep comparing him to the Coen Brothers. His books are dark, but are typically suffused with this almost slapstick/surrealist style of humor that I most commonly associate with the legendary filmmaking brothers. And, yes, this comparison in styles is a very good thing, because I absolutely love the Coen Brothers, and I love deWitt’s prose style just as much.

But as with the Coen Brothers, you either love or hate them, and the same can be said of deWitt. For every fan of the Coen Brothers who are devoted to films such as Blood Simple and No Country For Old Men, there’s also an equal number who absolutely despise The Hudsucker Proxy and O, Brother, Where Art Thou? and vice versa.

I make this comparison because if you loved deWitt’s breakout novel, the darkly funny masterpiece, The Sister’s Brothers, there’s a better chance than not you won't be a huge fan of Undermajordomo Minor. And it’s not going to be because of the story or content—which I actually found to be far darker and more sinister than The Sister’s Brothers—but because of the overall tonal shift. Because even though Undermajordomo Minor is a fairly grim piece of comedy, the tone of the novel is far more lighthearted and breezy compared deWitt’s first two novels.

So long story short, for those of you who absolutely drooled over The Sister’s Brothers, Undermajordomo Minor might not be for you. But if you’re willing to take a chance and push beyond your literary comfort zone, you’re going to be very happy to have picked up Undermajordomo Minor.

About the author

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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