July 1964. Chartwell House, Kent: Winston Churchill wakes at dawn. Theres a dark, mute presence in the room that focuses on him with rapt concentration.
Its Mr. Chartwell.
Soon after, in London, Esther Hammerhans, a librarian at the House of Commons, goes to answer the door to her new lodger. Through the glass she sees a vast silhouette the size of a mattress.
Its Mr. Chartwell.
Charismatic, dangerously seductive, Mr. Chartwell unites the eminent statesman at the end of his career and the vulnerable young woman. But can they withstand Mr. Chartwells strange, powerful charms and his stranglehold on their lives? Can they even explain who or what he is and why he has come to visit?
In this utterly original, moving, funny, and exuberant novel, Rebecca Hunt explores how two unlikely lives collide as Mr. Chartwells motives are revealed to be far darker and deeper than they at first seem.
Wednesday 22 July 1964
Winston Leonard Spencer Churchills mouth was pursed as if he had a slice of lemon hidden in there. Now aged eighty-nine, he often woke early. Grey dawn appeared in a crack between the curtains, amassing the strength to invade. Churchill prepared himself for the day ahead, his mind putting out analytical fingers and then coming at the day in a fist, ready for it.
A view of the Weald of Kent stretched beyond the window, lying under an animal skin of mist. Bordered to the west by Crockham Hill and to the east by Toys Hill, Churchills red-brick house sat in a shallow coomb, enclosed by a horseshoe of ancient forest that opened in a long, green horizon to the south.
Although he was fully awake, Churchills eyes remained closed. On his back, the bedcovers pulled and folded at his waist, he lay with his arms alongside the quilted log of his body. On the other side of the house, Clementine lay sleeping in her four-poster bed....
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.
(Reviewed by Jennifer G Wilder).
Full Review (1201 words).
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 ...
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