Summary and book reviews of Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Mr. Chartwell

A Novel

By Rebecca Hunt

Mr. Chartwell
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2011,
    256 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder

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Book Summary

July 1964. Chartwell House, Kent: Winston Churchill wakes at dawn. There’s a dark, mute “presence” in the room that focuses on him with rapt concentration.

It’s 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.

It’s 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. Chartwell’s 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. Chartwell’s motives are revealed to be far darker and deeper than they at first seem.

Wednesday 22 July 1964

chapter 1

5.30 a.m.

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill’s 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, Churchill’s 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, Churchill’s 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....

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Reviews

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews
Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, in Entertainment Weekly

A clever, entertaining, and deliciously literary novel that literally personifies Winston Churchill's 'black dog' of melancholy. It is dark comedy at its finest.

Publishers Weekly

Taking a hard look at the demons that haunt people, Hunt's story is an clever illumination of the suffering of so many, their status on the social scale offering no protection.

Kirkus Reviews

A witty, intelligent curiosity of a novel - less a story, more a recipe for mental health presented in light fictional form.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Already published in Hunt's home country, Great Britain, this debut novel cleverly combines historical detail, a marvelously subtle sense of humor, and the wit of J.K. Rowling to give readers a quirky assortment of characters they can root for with abandon.

The Scotsman (UK)

A real joy to read: funny, clever and original. A darkly comic debut that hits all the right notes.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Hunt's concept is intriguing, and she paints a vivid picture of the symptoms of depression.

The Bookseller (UK)

Powerful and original. Rebecca Hunt is a name to watch.

The Daily Mail (UK)

[A] marvellously original, tender and funny debut novel ... Rebecca Hunt proves herself to be a gifted writer who has no need of fictional realism to deliver profound truths.

The Sunday Express (UK)

Offers a powerful evocation of depression. Brilliantly original and thought-provoking. She tackles a serious topic with humour and intelligence and marks herself out as one to watch.

Observer (UK)

A remarkable debut. These are some of the best evocations of depression you’ll read.

Reader Reviews
Blueangel

The Dark of it all
I loved this book both as a great fun read as well as a study into the dark world of depression. It brought back real life memories of the world of my very best friend and partner. I found Ms. Hunt to be right on the mark with her soft description of...   Read More

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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 ...

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