The conceit at the heart of Mr. Chartwell
- the re-envisioning of Winston Churchill's famous bouts of depression as actual visits from a huge, slobbery black dog - is not cutesy or trite, as the book jacket blurb might lead one to fear, but clever and disarming. Rebecca Hunt engages the topic of depression in an inventive way, and the result is not a grim dose of hard truth but a playful meditation on the human condition. This is a novel about depression that even a depressed person can enjoy - indeed, a depressed person might find it radically cheering.
Black Pat's emergence on the scene is broad comedy. Even though he is standing on his hind legs when Esther first opens the door ("a mammoth muscular dog about six foot seven high") and speaking like a gentleman, he soon regresses into dog-like behavior. Hunt's descriptions are...
Beyond the Book
Churchill's Black Dog
Winston Churchill (1874-1965), the famous British prime minister who told Hitler "we shall never surrender" during World War II, was not the first to describe depression as a "black dog." The Oxford English Dictionary cites earlier uses of the phrase in literature and in nursery lore; for example, a sullen child was said to "have the black dog on his back." But Churchill was the most famous, and the expression is now indelibly linked to him.
Most of what we know about Churchill's black dog comes from a memoir his personal physician, Lord Charles Moran, published after his death. "In his early days," Lord Moran writes, "he was afflicted by fits of depression that might last for...