cover image The Gentleman

The Gentleman

Forrest Leo. Penguin Press, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-399-56263-1

In this riotous send-up of Victorian literature and Victorian manners, Lionel Savage is a middling poet who runs out of money. To avoid penury, he enters into a loveless marriage with the wealthy Vivien Lancaster. But six months into the marriage, Lionel finds that the marriage has sapped his vital poetic spark. Then, at a masked party held by his wife, he meets the Gentleman, a stranger who ultimately reveals himself to be the “Dev’l.” The next day, Vivien is missing and Lionel realizes that he must have accidentally sold her to the Gentleman. To rescue her, Lionel recruits an intrepid band consisting of Simmons, his back-talking manservant; Ashley Lancaster, his brother-in-law, an explorer newly returned to London; Will Kensington, an inventor of flying machines; and his 16-year-old sister, Lizzie Savage, recently expelled from boarding school for having sex with the dean’s son. Pinpointing a volcano in Iceland as the entrance to hell, Lionel and company find it difficult to get out of London when they are mistaken for government spies, then anarchists, and are forced to flee from the police. Lionel is also challenged to no fewer than three duels on the way to a surprising ending. In his debut, Leo does an inspired job of parodying the conventions of Victorian fiction. Hilarious dialogue, a Pythonesque sense of the absurd, and comical complications worthy of Thorne Smith at his “dev’lish” best round out the tale. [em]Agent: Mitchell Waters, Curtis Brown. (Aug.) [/em]