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 d├ębut 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.'

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess


  1. This sounds really good, and like nothing I've read before.

  2. This sounds quite unique. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  3. This sounds like an interesting approach to understanding one's depression.

  4. I'm so glad to see you enjoyed this as I have it high on my TBR list. It hasn't been released yet in the US.

  5. I was really drawn towards this book when I first heard about it. Your review has persuaded me that it is probably worth getting hold of. Hopefully my libraru will get it in soon :-)

  6. I am always intrigued by depression, as my first husband was diagnosed with manic depression before he took his life. As you say, it's a dark subject, but coped with all the better if one can look at it with a lighter lens
    ~which would probably be those of us who aren't inflicted with it quite so severely...

  7. This one has been on my reading radar for a while now and your excellent review has just sold it to me - another one for the Christmas wishlist. It sounds fascinating.

  8. this sounds really interesting..

  9. This sounds really interesting. And I think you are right in pointing out that you felt it might have been a little too light maybe, but still an interesting take on the subject.

  10. This does sound really rather good. I have heard lots of bits about it and never been too sure if its what I would like but it sounds like it would be a wonderfully different read.

  11. Zara - its certainly original!

    Anna - no problem :)

    Brenna - its an interesting idea, I thinks its to get some understanding from someone who has never had experience of depression.

    TheBookGirl - ah yes I noticed it had a later release date in the US, I think it comes out over there in february?

    Jackie - its certainly worth getting out the library and TBH its such a quick read that you dont have time to get bored with it.

    Bellezza - I read your blog post after writing this and wondered about that actually. I have no idea how someone so close to the subject with take it but I certainly got a perception of the exhusion of living with it, it really wore the characters down.

    lovely treez - a highly original idea, I hope you enjoy it

    Reachel - I'll be interested to see how other bloggers take to it TBH esp if they know what Mr Chartwell is (I didn't when I started the book)

    irisonbooks - it is a little light but in other ways it works well. I think the author had to make Mr Chartwell seem charming so that the reader would understand why the characters allowed him into their lives which is why it came across as light.

    Simon - Its certainly different, a great one for a book club actually. I have no idea what other people will make of it though!