Contemporary Literature · Historical Fiction · Humor

The Gentleman

This was the November book in my Muse Monthly subscription box, and it definitely solidified my reasons for subscribing. This is not a book that  would likely have picked up if it hadn’t conveniently arrived in my mailbox (accompanied my some of the best masala chai tea I’ve ever had). And I do love it when a book outside my “comfort zone” proves why I should read outside my comfort zone more often. This was so different from anything I’ve ever read (possibly the closest being The Eyre Affair, by Jaspar Fforde, which incidentally I also highly recommend) and what a thrilling ride it was:

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo 

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“The Editor’s Note sets the tone for this novel before we even get to the first page…and it lets you know that you’re in for one unique journey:

‘I have been charged with editing these pages and seeing them through to publication, but I do not like the task. I wish it on record that I think it better they had been burned.’ – Hubert Lancaster, Esq

What an incredibly fun read. A great mix of Victorian language, propriety, and themes, with some added humor, anachronisms (I’d say a bit in the form of steampunk, really) and a heavy dose of snark that almost bordered on satire (except for this being set in days long gone). Lionel Savage was a phenomenally enjoyable narrator, not a bit reliable (but that’s what made him so fun), but with the assistance of little notes from his cousin and editor, Hubert, we were able to get a little extra (though quite “proper”) perspective.

Vivien and Lizzie were great female characters, stretching the boundaries of what women are allowed to do in a way that (at least mostly) fits the time period and setting. Vivien’s secret plan that sets Savage on a mislead quest to retrieve her from the Devil is funny and subversive. I enjoyed that, until her actual disappearance, Savage noticed nothing (and really may not ever have, but was lucky that her flight coincided with his meeting of “the Gentleman”). He really is a self-absorbed cad, but the lovable kind who really just can’t see it.

Lancaster and Will Kensington were great additions to the cast and their interactions with Lizzie were probably some of my favorite parts. I think the biggest disappointment for me was The Gentleman himself. Not that he was poorly written (in fact, I liked his character a lot), but how infrequently he appeared and how small his role ended up being (I mean theoretically, and as far as our characters knew, he was much more involved, and he did set the ball rolling on Vivien’s plan, however unwittingly), but I really was just hoping for more of the title character. I do see how his was a pivotal role and deserved the title spot though. Plus, it’s a great title/nickname for the Devil.

On the whole, I enjoyed how all the drama and confusion was set in motion by such a mundane and commonplace problem as a man too wrapped up in his work and a wife that feels unloved – a great snarky take on that issue. This was a very fun read (I actively laughed out loud while reading more than once), that had great period style writing/speaking (with a suitably modern twist), and overall a fantastically jolly cast and set of adventures. Plus, who wouldn’t be charmed by a book whose chapters titles are in the vein of “In Which My Sister Returns from School for Reasons Best Omitted, & I Am Forced to Deliver to Her a Previously Unmentioned Piece of Intelligence” and “In Which I Very Nearly Fight a Duel.” Leo has a great voice and that was definitely the highlight of this read for me.”

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