Forrest Leo’s The Gentleman is a silly book. It knows it is. It exults in absurdity, delights in mishap, and does an absolute jig around the plot. And why not? We need some silliness right now.
Lionel Savage is anything but. More fraidy-cat than king of the jungle and more shy than savage, he’s a poet who thinks himself a bold artiste, but is in fact hiding in his library from his wife, whom he blames for his writer’s block. Which is where the Devil finds him, although he also doesn’t realize that until partway through their conversation.
Lionel is so profoundly self-un-aware that he’s not even sure his wife is gone for quite a while, or how her absence has come about. But once he decides she’s been taken by the Devil, he finally realizes that he might very well love her after all. O cruel fate! Fortunately, he has a host of relatives, friends, enemies, and a very sly butler to tell him how to proceed. And if they can’t agree, well, he has a zealous disregard for reality and impulsive enthusiasm to see him through. To where? Well…
Though its narrator is a retiring sort, the author doesn’t let him stay stuck inside for long. The Gentleman is cram-jam full of hijinks. Lionel blunders into a strange cast of characters who then propel him into—among other things—a mysterious bookshop, a dungeon, a flying machine, a round of fisticuffs, a masquerade, and very nearly a volcano. And if those end up being the wrong direction, more than half the main cast is happy to beat Lionel about the head or start a duel with him (or both) to change his mind. It’s Wildeian and wild, and it never stops.
This book is charming. It’s diverting. It’s light and fluffy and delicious as a genoise sponge (and incidentally, goes well with The Great British Bake-Off). It’s exactly what some of us need right now, so I suggest you dig right in.