By Forrest Leo
Penguin, 2016, 287 pages, Historical Fiction
Distraught at the loss of his inspiration, Lionel Savage, a struggling poet in Victorian London, accidentally conjures the Devil and realizes that he has inadvertently sold his rich wife's soul to him. Horrified at what he has done, Lionel plots a rescue mission to Hell with an assortment of unlikely companions.
This book is possibly exactly what P.G. Wodehouse would have written if he’d lived in Victorian England. Since I love both Wodehouse and this time period, this was the perfect book for me. Lionel Savage is more sarcastic than a Wodehouse main character, but he is also less comically weak and helpless as well. The side characters really steal the show, as they’re all exaggerated versions of English stock characters. There are strong English gentlemen, clever butlers, liberated young women, and dangerous intellectuals. As for the Devil, he’s just a nice, lonely gentleman who lives in an inaccessible place he prefers to call Essex Grove, and who happens to have a poetic gardener named Dante Alighieri.
Along with larger-than-life characters and zany situations, Savage inserts more humor in the formatting of the book. The book is edited by Lionel’s cousin, who leaves his opinions of Lionel’s behavior peppered throughout in footnotes. Occasional woodcut illustrations lend to the Victorian setting and tone, and heighten the comedy. This is a great read if you’re looking for something fun and a little bit bizarre