Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

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Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Esther's new lodger seems to be a large black dog, who has a strange connection with Winston Churchill. Hilariously funny and deeply thought-provoking. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: October 2010
Publisher: Fig Tree
ISBN: 978-1905490691

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For a couple of years now Esther Hammerhans has lived alone and money is a little tight. She works in the House of Commons library but it doesn't pay particularly well. Letting the spare room to a lodger seemed like a good idea, but she's somewhat surprised when she sees Mr Chartwell's silhouette. It's the size of a mattress and Mr Chartwell is a dog. A large black dog.

At home in Kent, Winston Churchill wakes up. He's reaching the end of his time in parliament and in some ways, he's not surprised to sense that there's a visitor in the room. It's someone he hasn't seen for a while, but the presence of the huge, mute hulk who watched him with a tortured expression was only to be expected. Winston's black dog was back.

"Bugger off, you tiresome bastard", Churchill said viciously.

And Mr Chartwell (Black Pat to his friends) is dangerously seductive. I felt myself falling in love with him – but that didn't surprise me either. Winston has come under his spell before, but Esther is reluctant to give in. She's not really a doggy person and she's understandably nervous about having Black Pat in the house, but the money he offers is too good to refuse. She's adamant though that he cannot have occasional use of the car.

Mr Chartwell's a wonderful character - the perfect mix of a doggy man and a manly dog:

Mr Chartwell sat at the kitchen table, playing patience with a deck of ancient cards. 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 might be quite continental, but diamonds are a girl's best friend."

But Black Pat is charismatic. He's the person you can't help falling for despite the fact that you know they will not make you happy. He has his own motives too – and they're much deeper and more dangerous than they seem. Winston and Esther are drawn together – each recognising something in the other – but will they be able to withstand the charms and the pull of the black dog?

You can read it as pure fantasy – and it could well be one of the funniest books you will read this year. I lost count of the number of times that I laughed out loud. Or, you can read it as an allegory and find a delicate analysis of the seductive pull of depression and how easy it is to succumb. On this level, it's a story which stays with you and makes you think. Either way, do read it.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Mr Chartwell is so startlingly original that's it's difficult to recommend further reading. Books which look at mental illness are not usually so hilariously funny and books with a large talking dog as the main character are not generally quite so thought-provoking. For a factual look at the way a large dog turned one man's life around, we can recommend I Have Heard You Calling In The Night by Thomas Healy. For the true story of someone else who encountered the black dog have a look at Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton. You could, of course, try Everland, also by Rebecca Hunt.

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