Patrick deWitt’s new novel, Undermajordomo Minor, tells the story of Lucy, a bungling young man hired to assist a butler somewhere in central Europe during an unspecified war sometime in the nineteenth century. It’s deWitt’s first book since The Sisters Brothers, a black comedy about two hitmen after a prospector during the California gold rush. That novel had already won over many critics by the time it was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, a year described as the award’s worst-ever after one of the judges said he liked his fiction to ‘zip along’. deWitt’s first novel, Ablutions (2009), ‘inspired by aspects of my life’, followed a drunk Hollywood barman in the second person.
DeWitt is Canadian and lives in Portland, Oregon. He’s in his early forties, elaborate tattoos above both elbows. The writers he reads are ‘typically long dead or at least very old’. ‘I don’t consider my place in the contemporary landscape,’ he told me when we met at his publisher’s office in west London in June. ‘Wherever I fit, put me there, it’s fine.’