Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Going into Mr Chartwell you should know that Winston Churchill suffered with depression throughout his adult life and referred to depression as "the black dog". Got it? Now you are ready to read one of the more original novels I've read in a long time.
The title character in Mr Chartwell is that black dog. Or something very like a dog. Mr Chartwell is 6' 7", smelly, and resembles a black Labrador. He has quite a few human characteristics: he speaks English, walks on his hind legs, drinks, needs an apartment and is employed. His job is persecuting Winston Churchill. Chartwell has been hounding Churchill for years. In 1964 when the novel opens Churchill is retiring from politics after sixty years. The idea of retirement does not sit easily with him and neither does having the black dog as a companion once again.
Chartwell has his teeth in Esther Hammerhans as well. Esther is a young widow with a room to let. She's naturally reluctant to rent it to Chartwell when he shows up but he has a way of not taking no for answer and soon moves in. Chartwell finds the grieving Esther an easy mark and takes over. Like an unloved and persistent stray Chartwell grabs a hold and insinuates himself into Esther's life. It's the old repulsive fascination thing for Esther. She finds Chartwell hideous and obnoxious and yet is seduced into waiting on him and caring for him anyway or maybe it's just that misery loves company, any company. I won't be forgetting Esther or Chartwell anytime soon.
What is Chartwell after? Can Esther and Winston help each other? Will Chartwell ever leave? Can a novel about depression have a happy ending? What does it all mean? Why isn't this novel a gigantic mess? Questions, questions, questions---most of which I'm not going to answer. Discovery is a big part of the oddball charm of this novel.
I will tell you that the boldness of Mr Chartwell is astounding. This is unique, metaphorical, very humorous novel by a first time author. Don't think that this is all pretentious, experimental, is-anything-ever-going-to-happen writing. There is as much storytelling in Mr Chartwell as there is invention. Impressive. The author, Rebecca Hunt paints vivid word pictures in this excellent debut. She has a clever, winning way with description. Hunt is successful as well in making a depressing subject, Depression, funny. You feel the weight of this debilitating disease and you can empathize but you are smiling while you do it and you have to wonder what for goodness sake is Rebecca Hunt going to write about next?
P.S. Love the cover!!