Life is more mystery than misery

(or at least, that's what I like to think)

Mr. Chartwell

Mr. Chartwell is the debut novel of Rebecca Hunt, a fine arts graduate who lives and works in London. First published by Fig Tree in 2010 and then picked up by Penguin, this novel set in July, 1964, combines a serious subject like depression and tries to give it a comical or humorous touch by personifying it as man sized black talking dog who tries to seduce the main characters into the darkness: Winston Churchill and Esther Hammerhans.

As Churchill is facing his retirement as a Member of the Parliament at the House of Commons, Esther Hammerhans, a library clerk at the same place, struggles to find love and overcome the death of his beloved husband two years ago. Both of them receive this weird visitor, who first introduces himself as Mr. Chartwell but later on changes his name to Black Pat. While Churchill has known him for a long time, Esther discovers who Mr. Chartwell is when she has already accepted to rent him a room at her house, and it will take a coincidental meeting with Churchill to give Esther the courage to fight him and evade what could have a become a long relationship with the black dog.

Hunt alternates Churchill’s and Hammerhans stories in short chapters that precede one another and finally mix up at the end, when they both find themselves stuck in a room with Black Pat and discover that both acknowledge his presence, which leads to the end of the story by Hammerhans overcoming him.

Although the author presents an interesting approach by personalizing depression as a character (a dog who speaks and acts as a person but has animal urges and needs) and using an historical character as Curchill, the story varies in intensity and becomes kind of boring or repetitive sometimes, once we have seen and understood how Black Pat works on both characters. There is a lack, from my point of view, of a subplot to enliven the novel. While it may seem that this could be Esther’s pursue of love with Corkbowl, then this story lacks the strength to maintain the reader’s interest, but most of all,  ends up converging with the main plot as well (will Black Pat win over Esther or push Churchill to a point of no return?), leaving a sketchy and vague sensation on the reader.

On the other hand, Hunt has created a quite charming main story, which combines humor, intelligence and a happy ending, so in spite of its ups and downs, I consider it a pretty good choice for these autumn afternoons with rain outside and the warm comfort of an interesting reading at home.

For more info on this book or to purchase it click here.

Laia Vilaseca


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