Title: The Gentleman
Author: Forrest Leo
Genre: Fiction (mystery/humour)
Release Date: 16th August, 2016
“When Lionel Savage, a popular poet in Victorian London, learns from his butler that they’re broke, he marries the beautiful Vivien Lancaster for her money, only to find that his muse has abandoned him.
Distraught and contemplating suicide, Savage accidentally conjures the Devil — the polite “Gentleman” of the title — who appears at one of the society parties Savage abhors. The two hit it off: the Devil talks about his home, where he employs Dante as a gardener; Savage lends him a volume of Tennyson. But when the party’s over and Vivien has disappeared, the poet concludes in horror that he must have inadvertently sold his wife to the dark lord.
Newly in love with Vivien, Savage plans a rescue mission to Hell that includes Simmons, the butler; Tompkins, the bookseller; Ashley Lancaster, swashbuckling Buddhist; Will Kensington, inventor of a flying machine; and Savage’s spirited kid sister, Lizzie, freshly booted from boarding school for a “dalliance.” Throughout, his cousin’s quibbling footnotes to the text push the story into comedy nirvana.” (Penguin Press)
This book was just a rollicking good time. Yes, that’s right — rollicking. It was funny, charming, and so farcically English that I was surprised to find out that the author, Forrest Leo, isn’t actually from England (he grew up in Alaska). If you’re the sort of person who has a little voice in their head as they read, then I can 100% guarantee that voice will slip on an English accent within the first dozen pages (assuming you don’t already have an English accent).
Anyway, what did I like about it? To be honest there’s very little I didn’t like about it. It’s a book that isn’t just funny, but also very clever and well written. Probably my favourite thing in the book was Lionel’s determination to make the word, ‘Devil’, into one syllable to make it fit into a poem; in order to do this he drops the ‘i’ and spells it ‘Dev’l’, which then means it needs to be said differently. But as his attempts to slip the new word into conversation show that his idea may not be the best:
‘Vivien’s been abducted by the Dev’l.’ […]
He looks confused and says, ‘By the what?’
‘I’m sorry, old boy, I don’t have any idea what you’re saying.’
The addition of notes throughout the book by Hubert Lancaster, acting as Savage’s editor, was another highlight, and he’s probably my favourite character. He’s politely honest in his assessment of the events in the book and of Savage himself; I particularly liked his editor’s note:
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.
Forrest Leo’s Devil is a completely delightful man who is aware of his reputation and doesn’t like it. He’s a quiet man who lives in a cottage and prefers Hell to be called Essex Grove to make it sound more inviting, for Hell “sounds so vulgar”. The rest of the cast are made up of the typical English characters you might find in any Victorian era novel (aside from Lionel’s sister, Lizzie, who is determined to be everything that women of her time aren’t), if somewhat amplified and over the top. Lionel Savage, in particular, is completely ridiculous in his gentlemanliness and poetishness (I think one of those is a word):
‘Simmons,’ I had said, ‘I would like to buy a boat so that I can sail the seven seas.’
I hadn’t, I suppose, any real notion of actually sailing the seven seas—I am not an adventurous soul, and would relinquish my comfortable seat by the fire only with reluctance. But it seemed a romantic thing to own a boat in which one could sail the seven seas, should one suddenly discover he had a mind to.
The only thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the ending, and the book was about two or three short chapters away from getting five stars. It’s not a bad ending by any means, but it felt a little bit like taking the easy way out to me and wasn’t the one I personally wanted. But in a book that doesn’t necessarily do what’s expected of it, it’s kind of fitting.
Long story short, read this. It’s loads of fun and is guaranteed to make you laugh.