It’s a first novel! and an exceptionally clever one. Mr. Forrest Leo has an aptitude for turning a phrase that brings the prose of P.G. Wodehouse to mind. And as a staunch admirer of Bertie and Jeeves, I don’t say that lightly.
The writing style and the first-person voice of the protagonist are pure pleasure when reading Mr. Leo’s debut novel The Gentleman. The narrator introduces himself in the first sentence: “My name is Lionel Savage, I am twenty-two years old, I am a poet, and I do not love my wife.” And this sentence perfectly encapsulates the character and voice of Lionel, who dismisses other writers as inferior rivals and fears the opinions of his ebullient younger sister Lizzie.
Lionel’s is not the only voice we hear in The Gentleman. The narrative is purportedly edited by his cousin, Mr. Hubert Lancaster, who is not an admirer of Lionel Savage. The contrast between Lionel’s self-consciously ornate prose and Hubert’s terse editorial comments is a sheer delight. You might almost say this is a dialogue-driven book, as we listen to Lionel’s inner thoughts and reactions as well as his conversations with Simmons the butler, Ashley Lancaster the explorer, Tompkins the bookseller, and Will Kensington the inventor. And I love a book that’s chock-full of entertaining dialogue.
And for me, this is where Forrest Leo truly separates from Mr. Wodehouse: I like the people in his world. I would want to browse the shelves in Tompkins’ bookshop and listen to Will go on about his gadgetry and especially hear the opinions of Lizzie about her future plans.
And who is The Gentleman? You know what, I don’t think I’m going to tell you that. He is an entity who completely and utterly changes Lionel Savage’s self-satisfied little literary world. You’ll find out who he is a few chapters in. And I have no doubt you will enjoy that journey.
If you’re now in the mood to read a little of Mr. Wodehouse’s work, try these: