Saturday, 16 April 2011

Book Review: MR CHARTWELL BY REBECCA HUNT

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Published by:  Fig Tree (Penguin Books)  Oct 2010
Pages:  224  (Hardback)
My Rating:  6/10

About the Book:

It's July 1964.
In bed at home in Kent, Winston Churchill is waking up. There's a visitor in the room, someone he hasn't seen for a while, a dark, mute bulk, watching him with tortured concentration. It's Mr Chartwell.
In her terraced house in Battersea, Esther Hammerhans, young, vulnerable and alone, goes to answer the door to her new lodger. Through the glass she sees a vast silhouette the size of a mattress. It's Mr Chartwell.
Mr Chartwell is a huge, black dog.
He is charismatic and dangerously seductive - as their lives are slowly drawn together, can Esther and Winston Churchill withstand his strange, powerful charms and strong hold?
In this utterly original, moving, funny and exuberant novel, Rebecca Hunt explores how two unlikely lives collide as Mr Chartwell's motives are revealed to be far darker and deeper than they seem.

Esther Hammerhans is a wispy, slim library clerk who works at Westminster Palace ….. Sir Winston Churchill is just about to retire from politics after 60 years …. at first glance they seem to have absolutely nothing in common, until the day Mr Chartwell enters Esther’s life and they begin to share this huge black dog as he divides his time between them.

She had been lonely --

For a long time the weeks of her life had drifted past as ghosts.  There was the rare bump of pleasure, perhaps from a meal out our a visit to the cinema, but it was brittle and shattered under the lonely monotony of the ghost days.  But now the singular Mr Chartwell was here, ransacking her forlorn routine.  It was a tonic of acid vibrancy and nerves.

Of course, what we realise that what they both have in common is depression. Churchill had been plagued by his ‘black dog’ for years but Esther was new to it all, and while she cautiously welcomes this intrusion into her sad life, he hates Mr Chartwell and wants him to leave him alone.  But will he?

Rebecca Hunt has taken the serious subject of depression and shown how it can affect different people in different ways, whoever they are.  The writing is very lively and, sometimes, entertaining.  Although I didn’t warm to Esther (she was too indecisive), I did like her friend, Beth, who tried to help her through her distress with some witty lines.

I don’t think this was really my type of book, I found it quite uncomfortable and weird the thought of a speaking dog.  It just didn’t feel right to me, I just couldn't imagine this big black dog walking around and lying on the bed chatting away! I do applaud Rebecca Hunt for her originality and boldness in writing about this sad subject.

A very original and clever story told in a slight off-beat way. Maybe it was just too off-beat for me!

Read the first pages of Mr Chartwell by downloading the Penguin taster here

You can read an interview with Rebecca Hunt talking about Mr Chartwell here

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