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House of Anansi

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Book Review: Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt

Patrick deWitt, the bestselling author of The Sisters Brothers, delivers another knockout novel. Undermajordomo Minor is about Lucien (Lucy) Minor and his absurd employment at Castle Von Aux. The deranged castle master, Baron Von Aux, rambles around in the dark eating rats. The Baroness has disappeared. Nearby soldiers are at war over an unidentified idea. And the villagers Lucy meets are thick as thieves, figuratively and literally. Oh, and he falls in love.

Whereas The Sisters Brothers was a darkly comic, Western-inspired novel, Undermajordomo Minor is a darkly comic, orphan story/Gothic romance. Lucy leaves home shortly after his father’s death, and although he had two parents growing up, it seems they were lacking in parental affections. Lucy sets out on his own to make his fortune, or at least to turn his fortunes. He’s cheated death and been given the chance to do something interesting. It’s Oliver Twist meets Harry Potter (without the magic). Castle Von Aux and Lucy’s love interest Klara provide the Gothic romance elements. There’s a spooky castle with a general curse about the place, inclement weather and downtrodden villagers, a few marginally threatening mysteries (like what happened to Lucy’s predecessor Mr Broom), and Lucy himself as the fainting heroine.

One of my favourite scenes is between Lucy and his boss Mr Olderglough. They need to locate the Baron, tidy him up and make him suitably presentable to the Baroness and her guests. Mr Olderglough believes that trapping the Baron and knocking him on the head is the best solution. Lucy counters.

“And what next, I wonder?”
“After he’s been knocked unconscious, then shall we bring him to his chambers and manacle him to his bed. Next we will force-feed him, and bathe him, and shave him, and cut his hair and strive to resurrect his interest in sophisticated society.” Mr Olderglough rubbed his hands together. “Now, what do you think of it?”
Lucy said, “I think it is somewhat far-fetched, sir.”
“Are you not up for it?”
“I’m not, actually, no. And to be frank, sir, I don’t believe you are, either.”
“What sort of attitude is that? Let us rally, boy.”
“Let us come up with another plan.”
“Let us look within ourselves and search out the dormant warrior.”
“Mine is dormant to the point of non-existence, sir. There is no part of me that wishes to lay nakedly abed and await that man’s arrival.”
“I tell you you will not be alone.”
“And yet I shall surely feel alone, sir.”
Mr Olderglough looked down the length of his nose. “May I admit to being disappointed in you, boy.”
“You may write a lengthy treatise on the subject, sir, and I will read it with interest. But I highly doubt there will be anything written within those pages which will alter my dissatisfaction with the scheme.”

I remember The Sisters Brothers being funny and engaging right from page 1 but it took me a bit longer to get into Undermajordomo MInor. That said, this novel is just as crazy as the last. It’s very hard to stop turning the pages once you’re into it. I hope it secures as many well-deserved awards and honours as his last novel. Watch for this title!

You’ll like Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt if you liked his previous titles Ablutions and The Sisters Brothers, or if you enjoy the humour of tv shows and movies like Father Ted and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. There’s something wonderful and absurd about it all.

Both the hardcover and digital edition are available from the publisher House of Anansi, Amazon.ca and independent booksellers like McNally Robinson.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

New Novel from Patrick deWitt

Prep your bookshelf for this tale of polite theft, bitter heartbreak, domestic mystery, and cold-blooded murder. Patrick deWitt, award-winning author of The Sisters Brothers, has a new novel out this fall.

The Sisters Brothers was a fantastic read, one of my favourites that year, and it won the 2011 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and was also nominated for that year’s Man Booker and Scotiabank Giller Prize. I’m really looking forward to this one and have an advance copy to enjoy! (Thanks House of Anansi)


Full review to come, but the basics are this: Lucien Minor (Lucy) is young, foolish and rather daring. He accepts employment as “undermajordomo” at the disquieting Castle Von Aux (think Transylvania) and becomes embroiled in a love triangle. The book is full of the dark secrets and peculiar characters, so peculiar that you will be forced to turn the pages to see what’s next.

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt will appear Sept. 5 simultaneously in Canada (House of Anansi Press), the U.K. (Granta Books), and the U.S. (Ecco/HarperCollins).

Available in hardcover and ebook.
Pre-order Undermajordomo Minor

Monday, April 08, 2013

Celebrate National Poetry Month

April is national poetry month and I thought that I’d celebrate by re-reading some of the poetry collections on my shelves.

Excerpt: “at night cooley listens” published in Sunfall by Dennis Cooley (Anansi, 978-0-88784-580-2)

at night cooley listens to his body
an answering service he bends over now
          the day’s over the day’s messages
the rest of the day he does not listen
does not pay it much attention, his neglect shameful
cooley knows he shld do better shld take it out more often
          show it a little more affection

once the noise of the day drops like shoes untied away
every night when the tired switch clicks night on
the body becomes importunate spouse
it’s about time you listened to me
you self-centred bastard the body says you barely listen
the body rehearses a long list of grievances, sniffling
                        there are violins

Dennis Cooley is one of my all-time favourite poets. I find his poems to be flamboyant and a little crazy. Some of them are incredibly heartfelt, while others use tone and timing to turn otherwise casual observations into challenges or wisecracks. He’s the only poet I keep coming back to. Others I enjoy and soon forget whereas I’ll eagerly read, and re-read, Cooley. This poem in particular makes me giddy in the same way that episodes of Seinfeld do.

Excerpt: “Wolf Tree” by Alison Calder published in Wolf Tree (Coteau Books: 978-1-55050-359-3)

The wolf tree’s arms reach out
in a question that is also an answer,
as we seek another name for what we have.
The tree embraces us in its branches,
holds the buds of our tender dreams.
What happened, it says, what happened
to the farm grown over, the buildings
sagging into slope-shouldered grayness.
The wild comes back, as lilacs
explode over the woodshed,
irises and roses bloom beside
decaying doors.

Alison Calder’s whole collection of poems is wonderful to read, in particular because each poem offers a wonderful balance of dream and reality. I also like her poems because many are set on the prairies. Calder grew up in Saskatoon and I first met her at the University of Manitoba where she was teaching CanLit and creative writing. I’ve admired her work ever since and perhaps became a fan of prairie poets because of her and Dennis Cooley, along with David Arnason, Robert Kroetsch and newer poets like Alexis Kienlen. I enjoyed the “bee” poems in her recent collection 13.

Poem: “The Home Inspection” by Jamie Sharpe published in Animal Husbandry Today (ECW, 978-1-177041-106-7)

Before I even step
into this house
let me point out
something about
the foliage

Those leaves on
that there bush
were new in spring;
given it’s late July
I’d say they have
two months tops.

I doubt they’re
under warranty.

Jamie Sharpe is new to me, and I appreciate that he sent me a copy of this collection of poems because I’ve been enjoying exploring it. Like the poems above, Sharpe’s poems are accessible while still being lyrical. It’s a great collection.

What poems strike your fancy? If you’re keen to share, consider checking out the poetry contest on 49thShelf.com for a chance to win a prize package of new Canadian poetry.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Review: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt


Open any page of Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers and you’re in for a treat. The novel vacillates between poignant then hilarious moments in a way that kept me flipping the pages in a race to the end. I’m ready to start again. The Sisters Brothers is such a pleasurable read.

Oregon City, 1851
I was sitting outside the Commodore’s mansion, waiting for my brother Charlie to come out with news of the job. It was threatening to snow and was cold and for want of something to do I studied Charlie’s new horse, Nimble. My new horse was called Tub. We did not believe in naming horses but they were given to us as partial payment for the last job with the names intact, so that was that. Our unnamed previous horses had been immolated, so it wasn’t as though we did not need these new ones but I felt we should have been given money to purchase horses of our own choosing, horses without histories and habits and names they expected to be addressed by.

The same way that the film True Grit was casual yet brutal, poetic yet slap-stick, so too is The Sisters Brothers. It’s a challenge to the conventional western, and, as Chad Pelley aptly says, “deWitt’s tale of two outlaw brothers challenged conventional CanLit to a duel in 2011, and it won.”

Yes it won big.

Winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, plus shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize

Back cover quotes often seem empty to me but Esquire nails it by saying “Thrilling ... A lushly voiced picaresque story ... A kind of True Grit told by Tom Waits.”

The Sisters Brothers is a new frontier you must cross. I promise you there is gold at the end of this stream! I often give away my books as I’m not one to re-read, but The Sisters Brothers is a novel I must own. It’s also the one I’ll be giving away as gifts this year.

Published by House of Anansi. Buy it here.
The Sisters Brothers on Amazon.ca

Monday, March 16, 2009

SXSW: No Think for Old Publishers

New Think for Old Publishers panel at SXSW drew a lot of frustration from the crowd of book lovers and supporters.

The official description of the session was:

This is not a discussion of whether ebooks are killing treebooks, or whether it’s possible to get cozy with an Amazon Kindle. It’s about how participatory culture and the online world interact with good olde book publishing.Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, Deborah Schultz, and fellow panelists will share with the audience a variety of perspectives on what’s going right and what’s going wrong in publishing, assess success of recent forays into marketing digitally, digital publishing, and what books and blogs have to gain from one another. Penguin Group (USA), which houses some 40 plus imprints and publishes an extremely broad variety of physical and digital products everything from William Gibson’s first ebook in the 90’s to Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food to Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels (the source for HBO’s True Blood) is deeply involved in exploring ways that old and new media might better collaborate. Audience members are invited to speak up about what they think book publishers could/should be doing to better provide relevant information and content to blogs, websites, and online communities. Come tell old media what you want and how you want it.

Clay Shirky ITP
John Fagan   Mktg Dir,  Penguin Group (USA)
Deborah Schultz   Founder/Chief Catalyst,  deborahschultz.com
Peter Miller   Dir of Publicity,  Bloomsbury USA
Ivan Held   Pres GP Putnam’s Sons,  Penguin Group (USA)

They certainly told publishers what they think. The summation was “you suck at this is the biggest way possible.”

I think it’s unfair to attack the folks on that panel but as representatives of the industry they do have to go back to their houses and understand that they need to convey, not that bloggers are an unruly bunch, but that publishers need to get off their asses and get involved with social media. Enough is enough.

BookSquare says
If you’re going to hold a session called “New Think for Old Publishers”, you gotta come with some new thinking. Either that or tell the audience that it’s a research session…and the audience is supposed to bring the new thinking. Good idea, needed better execution. Nobody read the panel description to mean “we want the audience to tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can fix it”.


The publishing people on stage said, essentially, tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can fix it. You have 300 people who give up an hour of their lives to hear the cool things the traditional publishing business is doing…and you can ask them to consult on your business?

Watch a video of the panel here.

Other links to conversation about this panel:
Medialoper has a fairly neutral assessment of what unfolded.

Twitter stream of comments on this panel #sxswbp

Monique’s summary
What went wrong is this:
* Publishers have not listened to the crowd for a long time.
* The crowd is restless.
* Publishers wring their hands about the web.
* The crowd offers options publishers don’t like.
* Publishers weep into their hands.
* The crowd wants to help and offers other suggestions.
* Publishers act like deer in headlights.
* The crowd plows down publishers and reinvents the industry without them.

What this panel really came down to is that the wisdom of the crowds is not being tapped. The crowd is now sick and tired of trying to help people who won’t help themselves.

Hold me to this: I’m going to organize a panel in Vancouver. We’re going to create a model for publishing and marketing books. We’re going to move forward as an industry. Leaders will be identified. Roles will be assigned. If you’re not open to totally change everything you’re doing, then you are not ready for this revolution. Don’t come.

Who’s in?


Peter Miller Glibness. “Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Tips from a panelist who barely survived” in Publishers Weekly.
Read the article.

Michael Tamblyn of BookNet Canada on 6 Things That Revolutionize Publishing

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shani Mootoo Launch of Valmiki’s Daughter

Launch: Valmikiâ's Daughter by Shani Mootoo on TwitPic

Love Shani Mootoo’s poetry. Love the cover of this book. So hot!

Valmiki’s Daughter by Shani Mootoo (House of Anansi)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Outlander Wins Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award

The Outlander by Gil Adamson has won this year’s Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award.

At some point in my trip, I read, and loved this book, wrote a lovely review, then carried on with my day. I cannot for the life of me find that review so let me tell you, there is no doubt in my mind that this book deserves the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award. The writing is brilliant and very smart. I love books that craft images so clearly that it’s as if you are there. Gil’s writing is really tight and smart. It’s rare that I get the sense that the author is smart, clever maybe, entertaining always, but smart, wow. Gil is smart, her choice of words is wonderful.

The Outlander is the story of a young widow desperate to flee her brother-in-laws, who are out to revenge the death of their brother—the death of their brother by her hand.

It’s 1903 and not easy for a woman to travel alone. She is definitely saved by the generosity of others, but her fate is always in question. Gil Adamson’s novel is heart-pounding, gripping, and full of grief, love and wild characters.

Perhaps my favourite book this year.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Online Marketing Tools for Book Publishers

Cross-posted on Boxcar Marketing ...

This Sunday was the 2008 AGM for the Association of Canadian Publishers. I moderated the first professional development session of the day, which was a panel discussion on online marketing.

The panelists were:

There were several interesting sites mentioned in the session that I’ll post here for audience members interested in following-up on those discussions. I plan to post some notes about our session too.

Annick Press Livebrary Blog: A great resources for publishers, educators, librarians and anyone interested in what’s happening online in children’s publishing.

Emarketing101.ca: A fantastic source of information on search marketing, pay-per-click campaigns, search engine optimization and anything related to search—the most cost effective online marketing spend.

SeenReading.com: Julie Wilson, also of House of Anansi, keeps a blog that is a perfect example of how to play with books and the web. Simple. Engaging. One of my favourite web sites.

MyNameIsKate.ca: Marketing and Technology Consultant Kate Trgovac’s personal blog, which is a hotbed of links and brilliant posts on marketing and technology.

W8NC is a Canadian marketing and communications company specializing in emerging technology.President is Wayne MacPhail.

OneDegree.ca: The best and most interesting source of marketing news, case studies and interviews related to marketing in Canada.

Boxcar Marketing’s Underwire Newsletter: Full-Support for Non-Techies: Monique Trottier’s monthly newsletter on online marketing, technology, social media tools and tips for web design and email marketing. Free advice. What more could you want?

HorsePigCow.com: A marketing blog for those who see the online world as a place for creativity, community, conversation and collaboration. This girl has it together. Another of my daily blog reads.

Follow the AnnickPress Twitter feed. See how it’s done.

Monique’s presentation to the Centre for Chief Marketing Executives: A list of Social Media Marketing Tools. See the list and examples of the tools being used by businesses.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Book Review: De Niro’s Game by Rawi Hage

A couple of years ago I was in Calgary at the Writers Festival, and I had the good fortune of meeting Rawi Hage in the Author’s Lounge.

I was inspired to hear his talk on a panel about “writers writing from away”. Since then I’ve wanted to read De Niro’s Game, but for some reason it’s taken me until now to do so.

De Niro’s Game is set in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s and 80s. De Niro is actually George, who is friends with Bassam, our narrator.

George and Bassam are just kids when the war breaks out. They hunt around for bullet casings, which they trade with neighbourhood kids. George and Bassam grow up to be thugs, the kind of thugs that develop because of civil war. George, I think goes a bit further than Bassam, joining the militia, doing cocaine, experimenting with—who knows what. Bassam is more silent. Perhaps he is just as bad but since he’s the narrator we don’t know about it.

De Niro’s Game by Rawi Hage is the story of George and Bassam and their escapes from the war. For Bassam, it means being smuggled out of the country to France. His escape and time in Paris forms the last third of the book, which I felt was the strongest writing in the novel.

A talented author, Rawi Hage is dynamite at conveying the complexities of his narrator’s character and the betrayals of war. The earlier part of the novel though was riddled with adjectives, annoyingly so:

Ten thousand bombs had landed on Beirut, that crowded city, and I was lying on a blue sofa covered with white sheets to protect it from dust and dirty feet.

Either the adjectives decreased throughout the story or my patience with them increased. Regardless, I did enjoy this tale of one man’s struggle with identity, war, friendships, betrayals and growing up.

Have you read it?
De Niro’s Game by Rawi Hage