Review: Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt
Author: Rebecca Hunt
Release Date: February 22, 2011
Publisher: Random house
Source: Personal Copy
During his lifetime, British politician Sir Winston Churchill often referred to the depression he suffered as the "black dog." In her clever debut novel, Rebecca Hunt personifies the black dog as a monstrous black Labrador Retriever who can speak and walk on his hind legs. The story takes place in England over a 5 day period during the month of July in 1964. In Kent, Churchill is preparing to retire from Parliament while in London Mr. Chartwell, or Black Pat as he likes to be called, answers an ad for a boarder placed by lonely widow Ester Hammerhans. These two seemingly unrelated people now must both deal with this dark menacing stronghold on their lives.
One positive quibble I had with Mr. Chartwell was the length. I felt that there was so much more Hunt could have done with the story without being excessive. The characters of Churchill and Ester weren't as fleshed out as necessary for me to really care about or understand them. The focus of the story was very much on Black Pat, who is quite a complex character. At times funny and intelligent, he can quickly turn to being cruel, devious, and egocentric. The descriptions of Black Pat are where Hunt's use of imagery really shines through.
He did look similar to a Labrador, with the vast barrelled chest and stocky limbs built to move over rough and difficult terrain, but a heavier set and strictly hideous Labrador. There was nothing decorative about him. His short black fur was dense and water resistant, his broad face split by a vulgar mouth. The monstrous grey tongue dangled, droplets of saliva spilling onto the floor.While Ester and Churchill didn't interact much, they both served to highlight two ends of the spectrum. Churchill's story focuses on the genetic angle of the disease, and he comes across as more resigned as he's lived with Black Pat most of his life. Ester, a widow struggling with the two year anniversary of her husband's suicide, is new to the feelings of sadness and despair and doesn't quite know how to react.
Overall, I did enjoy the story and liked what the author was trying to accomplish. This was an innovative literary treatment of a disease that affects millions of people. Aside from the debut novel issues, this quick and to-the-point story was definitely one of the more original reads I've encountered this year. If you're looking for something a little puzzling and different, then I would look into Mr. Chartwell.