BookBrowse Reviews Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Mr. Chartwell

A Novel

by Rebecca Hunt

Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Feb 2011, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


An unlikely alliance between Winston Churchill and a young widow, both engaged in a fight against depression

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 exquisite, as the strange gentleman raises his eyebrows ("They weren't eyebrows so much as thumbprint-sized buds above his eyes, but they were expressive in the same way") or digs into the cheese and crackers ("They both listened to him chew. Not just a sickening noise, it was a vigorous one. The shape of his face didn't permit quiet eating, or subtle eating with a closed mouth. Loud and visible, the cheese mashed into a pulp"). In fact Black Pat's modus operandi is to hang around his "client" acting like a dog - chewing rocks, scratching, digging up smelly objects. He climbs up on the bed and snores. He distracts the victim from whatever else is going on. Discovering the way the dog interacts with the characters is one of the main pleasures of the novel, so I don't want to give too much away - but I will say that the surreal and absurd conjunction of moping thoughts and an ill-mannered animal is fertile and funny at every meeting.

This is not a meaty, wordy, plot-driven novel. Both chapters and sentences are short; the descriptions are lyrical and the dialog is epigrammatic. The characters are colorful sketches, although they do develop along a trajectory that is (quietly, poetically) suspenseful, even as we are really only given small glimpses of their lives. Rebecca Hunt trained as an artist (see her book-promotion interview on You Tube below) and it's fruitful to think of Mr. Chartwell as a work of art on the scale of a painting, with each scene arranged as a small composition. The visual details of each room are carefully rendered, as are the artifacts that each character keeps as reminders of the past. Churchill has historical souvenirs and gifts from heads of state; Esther has tchotchkes from old vacations and her late husband's pencil cup.

The most redemptive force at work in the novel, however, is not visual but linguistic - both Churchill and Esther are constantly reading and quoting. Esther works in a library and is trying to read Moby Dick; Churchill's trying to utter Shakespearean locutions. Black Pat muddies the air with as much distracting doggerel and as many meaningless puns as he can interject, but the characters keep fighting back, searching for more elevated language. Hunt has done a brilliant job putting words in Churchill's mouth - she pastes together phrases that sound like real quotations from a famous man of another time, with rich, archaic vocabulary and satisfying turns of phrase. "It's exhausting," he says to his wife, "All I want to do is lie doggo until it's all over, to frowst in my bedroom." When a new character, an accomplished chatterbox, comes on the scene, it's a major event. The clever wordplay is a saving grace, a consummate human skill that no canine can match.

Reviewed by Jennifer G Wilder

This review is from the February 16, 2011 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Noise of Time
    by Julian Barnes
    Confession: I do two terrible – some say unforgivable – things while reading a book. First...
  • Book Jacket
    Smoke
    by Dan Vyleta
    In Dan Vyleta's universe, set in an alternate Victorian England, people engaging in sinful thought ...
  • Book Jacket: Golden Hill
    Golden Hill
    by Francis Spufford
    Spufford brings American history to raucous life through the story of Mr. Richard Smith, a ...

Win this book!
Win The Library of Light and Shadow

The Library of Light and Shadow by M.J. Rose

"Possibly her best yet. A sensuous, sumptuous, and spellbinding novel." - Kirkus Reviews

Enter

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Necklace
    by Claire McMillan

    For readers of The Nest, the intelligent, intoxicating story of long-simmering family secrets.
    Reader Reviews

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T H Are B T O

and be entered to win..

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

A novel of suspense and passion about a terrible mistake that changed a family forever.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.