The Next Chapter

Patrick deWitt on Undermajordomo Minor

The breakout literary star discusses his weird and wonderful new novel with Shelagh Rogers.
Patrick deWitt's 2011 literary smash hit, The Sisters Brothers, won a slew of awards and put deWitt on the literary map. (Danny Palmerlee)

Patrick deWitt exploded onto the Canadian literary scene in 2011 when his novel The Sisters Brothers was nominated for what felt like every award imaginable. It won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and had everyone wondering what deWitt would do next. And now we have the answer, with his follow-up Undermajordomo Minor. Undermajordomo Minor - which is longlisted for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize - is an adult fairy tale about Lucien (Lucy) Minor who gets a job assisting the majordomo at Castle Von Aux.

Shelagh Rogers spoke to deWitt in Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia, as part of a special ongoing artists series there.


"I was reading my son some fables; it made for good nighttime reading. These stories were very vivid and very strange and occasionally bizarrely violent. It was a very free landscape. You could get away with murder, literally. I thought, 'I'm having so much more fun reading these stories than writing [my novel].' The fable landscape seemed far richer to me so I ditched the novel and went with the fables. There's something to be said about dusting off an old tradition and putting your stamp on it."


"Often the starting point for characters for me is finding a little, most minor detail and I'll go from there. The things I knew about Lucy were that I wanted him to be somewhat aimless and not particularly popular. I wanted him to be emaciated and I wanted him to be an artful liar. That was the extent of it. The rest of it became richer as the story went on and I spent more time with him. It was an unpromising beginning, it was quite vague."


"Things shouldn't be simplistic or reductive, but more and more, I understand that A) I am an escapist and B) I am somebody who wants art to be for everyone. I am increasingly unimpressed by works of art that require a college degree to understand. I think that art should be for everyone. And people should be moved by it. I don't necessarily want to make people stomp and clap. I simply want to engage people."

Patrick deWitt's comments have been edited and condensed.