Philip's dad, the former-publican of the Castle
pub in Newark-on-Trent, is dead and his Uncle Alan is making
moves on his mother. To make matters worse, his dead father, who
hangs out with other murdered dads in the parking lot behind the
pub, tells Philip that he was murdered by Uncle Alan, and Philip
must avenge his death before his father's birthday or the latter
will spend the rest of eternity in "The Terrors".
Shakespeare aficionados will have fun recognizing Haig's modern-day counterparts to the Bard's creations, but Haig's work lives and breaths in its own right with freely imagined characters whose lives and destinies are controlled by their own personalities and the setting. After all, it goes without saying that a story revolving around an 11-year-old living in the North of England in the present day is going to be driven by different dynamics than that experienced by a Prince of Denmark 400 years ago!
Philip, who pours out his story in a style unhindered by punctuation or the rules of grammar, is an immensely likable character. Spending 300-pages seeing through his innocent and honest eyes as he relates his tragically-comic story is an experience not to be missed. His story is actually more tragic than anything Hamlet had to deal with. In fact, my overwhelming urge on finishing The Dead Fathers Club was to apologize to Philip for laughing at his predicament, but it is impossible not to as Haig has a keen eye for the blackly comic.
Like the narrator of other books from a child's perspective, such as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the frequency of Philip's spot-on observations sometimes stretch the boundaries of what an 11-year-old would express, but nevertheless, make for very fine and funny reading.
Having said that, a 12-year-old reviewer, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, comments that he can understand Philip very well and "he doesn't sound like a grown-up trying to be a kid". So perhaps, like so many adults, this reviewer underestimates the depths of the preadolescent mind:
The World Observed by Philip Noble
"Rugby is weird because it lets people hurt you and jump on you
on the field and if they did it 30 minutes before at break
they'd get told off but in Rugby you are meant to do it. Its
like how in War soldiers are told to kill other men and they
they are Heroes but if they killed the same men when they were
not in War they are Murderers. But they are still killing the
same men who have the same dreams and chew the same food and hum
the same songs when they are happy but if it is called War it is
all right because that is the rules of War."
"Carla (the bar maid) came over with her hoop earrings and her hoop eyes and her short skirt. She looked like two people sewn together. A young person on the bottom half and an old flaky person on the top half. Mum looked at Carlas legs like she was scared of them."
"[Nero] put poison in some cake at a childs birthday party so he could kill his brother who was BRITANNICUS who might have wanted to be an Emperor. And killing is like Pringles which are Mums favourite crisps. Once you pop you cant stop."
"[My teacher] said the word branding came from when farmers used to burn marks into their cows to show they belonged to them. She made her eyes look like iced buns inside her thick glasses and she said When you wear your Nike trainers to school you might think you are expressing your freedom but really you are showing the world that you are owned by that PARTICULAR company."
About the Author: Matt Haig's writing has appeared
in The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The
Independent, and The Sydney Morning
Herald. The Dead Fathers Club is
his American debut but his second
published novel following The Last
Family in England (2004), a
reworking of Henry IV, Part I from the
point of view of a black Labrador named
Shadow Forest, his first book for children, was published in the UK in May 2007; and in the USA as Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest in June 2007.
His next book for "grown-ups will be The Possession of Mr Cave in May 2008, to be followed by a children's novel called The Runaway Troll.
He now lives in Leeds but grew up in Newark-on-Trent where he went to a school much like Philip's in The Dead Fathers Club.
This review was originally published in March 2007, and has been updated for the December 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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