Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt
When I read the back of this book I thought I was in for quite a light hearted and witty read but instead I discovered something much darker than the synopsis suggested.
Winston Churchill (yes, THAT Churchill) is approaching his retirement and is stalked by a big black talking dog calling himself Mr Chartwell. At the same time Esther Hammerhans, a young widowed and vulnerable women allows Mr Chartwell to move in as her lodger.
You can see why I thought at first this was going to be a surreal but funny read. I didn't know this but 'the black dog' is a metaphor for clinical depression and this is exactly what Mr Chartwell represents in the book. Mr Chartwell is sometimes funny and charismatic he is compelled to torment both Churchill and Esther until they both give up and succumb to the depression he represents.
'A vase was on the table, the flowers emptied into the sink. Mr Chartwell took a finishing swig from the vase and poured in more beer from the bottle next to him. He started to sing with a crooning tilt to his forehead. 'A bone in the fridge may be quite continental, but diamonds are a girl's best friend.'
There is a lot to like about this début novel and the quote above is an example. Mr Chartwell is a charismatic, likeable character which I believe is the author's intention. The plot devise of Mr Chartwell works quite well as it really shows how depression encroaches on the characters lives. It becomes exhausting for the characters as they are forced to put up a front to their friends and the outside world while at the same time fighting Mr Chartwell. At times you really do feel for the main characters and what they are forced to endure.
'I understand that we share a wicked union, and I know the goblin bell which summons you comes from a tomb in my heart. And I will honour my principles, labouring against the shadows you herald. I don't blench from my burden, but -' here he let out a deep breath, laying the glasses down gently - 'it's so demanding; it leaves me so very tired. It would be some small comfort to me if I could ask how long I must endure this visit. Please, when do you leave?'
Unfortunately I do think that Mr Chartwell is a bit too likeable and not sinister enough (especially towards the end) and considering the seriousness of the subject, the overall feel of the novel felt a little light. But these are minor quibbles because overall I enjoyed this highly original novel.
This is my favourite quote from Mr Chartwell which I feel demonstrates his more malevolent side;
'It's either my way or the hard way. But in truth, in time, my way is the hardest way imaginable.'
Posted by Jess