the gentleman

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo

Though I'm certainly not one to turn down silliness in any form, when I am ever in the position to launch into my next read, I have a tendency to veer towards darker, more serious elements. Not always, of course, but when I choose humor, it often needs to be a form in which I'm already deeply invested (this is already loaded into my Audible player) or comparable to one already proven to be within my wheelhouse.

Penguin Press, who provided my advance copy, squarely smacked the nail when it offered The Gentleman as within the vein of Wodehouse or Monty Python. I haven't read nearly the Wodehouse I intend to nor watched every last episode of Python but biting British wit is certainly my thing. 

And because I'm not a thorough expert in either Wodehouse or Python, I've difficulty comparing directly but am inclined to agree that if your tastes are similar, you'll likely enjoy Leo's debut novel. 

"Often in the last six months I have considered joining the Diogenes Club. It is a club for men such as I. In it, speaking is strictly forbidden and acknowledging your fellow members in any way whatever is strongly discouraged. It is a place to go for companionable solitude and social introspection, and is peopled by lonely misanthropes. By the time the notion came to me, I had already entrenched myself in my study - and I have said before that I am a creature of habit."

"'Well never mind, old boy. Don't have to lie about it. No shame in a little ignorance now and again.' 

I consider objecting, but he is already describing his trips and I cannot get a word in edgewise. 'They were your standard expeditions: sunburn, frostbite, sleeping on rocks, maggots in your flesh, near starvation. You know.'

I do not know. How would I know? Why on earth would I have any notion? 'Delightful,' I say.

'Oh but it is!' he exclaims. 'You have no idea. Most wonderful thing in the world, travelling. What was I saying?'"

"I am not well acquainted with art in general - words have been my domain, not pictures. They seem to me to have much greater value on the whole. Whoever said that a picture is worth a thousand words has clearly never read good words."

Our protagonist, Lionel Savage (because of course) is a poet that has been married for six months. He married his wife for her money and found that his muse fled him the day of the wedding. So, of course, he hates his wife. But as soon as believes he has sold her to the devil, he realizes that he is madly and deeply in love with her (because of course) and must rescue her at any cost. His butler, sister, brother-in-law and various other actors such as a bookstore owner and an inventor of flying things all help in the attempted rescue.

Though perhaps I didn't laugh quite as much as I'd hoped going in, I was absolutely entertained by the adventure and witty scenes (they frequently reminded me of something out of an Oscar Wilde play and you certainly can't go wrong there). Forrest Leo, despite his subject matter, is not, in fact, British, but was raised in the wilds of Alaska. When I went looking for more information about him, I stumbled across the fact that he's also a photographer.  

I am disappointed that there seems to be an oversight in featuring to the reader on both goodreads and Amazon that The Gentleman is illustrated by Mahendra Singh. Searching his name on both sites brings up a number of results for books he has illustrated, but not this one. His sharp, elegant illustrations add to the charm and wit of the novel.