What’s an excellent but underappreciated (1) poet to do when he runs out of funds? Marry for money, of course! And what should the same poet do when he discovers that he doesn’t love his new wife... and that she has destroyed his ability to write? Sell her to the Devil, naturally.(2)
But what happens when the same hapless(3) poet discovers that — GASP! — he actually loves his wife? He clearly must go to Hell and get her back!
This is the premise of Forrest Leo’s unbelievably(4) funny novel The Gentleman. Lionel Savage, who has married the lovely Vivien Lancaster for her money, accidentally conjures the Devil (or "The Gentleman") at a party and thereafter his wife disappears. Lionel (who has been trying to rename the Devil "The Dev'l" in an attempt to make it a single syllable(5)) realizes that he must have somehow SOLD Vivien to the Lord of Darkness. Oopsies.
Newly in love with Vivien, he endeavors to get her back with the aid of his butler, his newly turned up little sister (kicked out of boarding school due to an indiscretion involving a man), Vivien Lancaster's famous explorer brother Ashley, and an inventor with a flying machine. It sounds crazy -- it frequently IS more than a little crazy -- but it works beautifully.
One of my favorite things in this novel is the footnotes. The "editor" of the novel, who is a cousin of both Lionel AND Vivien, likes to interject his thoughts into (and sometimes questions the veracity of ) the narrative. It keeps the story moving and adds to the humour.
If you are a fan of Jasper Fforde, Victorian-era novels, or steampunk, this one should work for you. It's a quick, delightful romp that is much appreciated in what I can only describe as trying times.
For more on Forrest Leo, click here.
(1) Actually, his talents are kind of questionable
(2) There is no financial exchange for the wife.
(3) REALLY Hapless. I mean, seriously.
(4) I mean, I was startled by how amusing it is, but you might not be? To each her/his own, I say.
(5) It doesn't take.