Mr Chartwell – Rebecca Hunt

I had been eager to read Rebecca Hunt’s debut novel ‘Mr Chartwell’ ever since I first saw reviews of it in the papers and in the press. This was then made further enticing when I saw the Culture Shows 12 best debuts which I mentioned on the blog yesterday. Why did I fancy reading it so much? Well I thought that the premise sounded a mixture of completely bonkers and rather original and sometimes a book just buzzes around in the back of your head and so you have to give in, and I am so glad that I did.

What would you do if you advertised for a lodger and the only candidate turned up on your doorstep was a giant talking dog? What would you then do when you discovered, after some rather uncomfortable questioning that the dog in question was Winston Churchill’s very own nemesis, ‘the Black Dog’, itself… depression? This is the very situation which Esther Hammerhans find herself in during July 1964, as you start to read ‘Mr Chartwell’, and its one that could have possibly gone completely wrong but instead becomes a witty and dark tale that will have you in its grip within a chapter or two.

I admit the idea of a talking dog who is actually an embodiment of depression wasn’t really a book I was expecting to enjoy; in fact I wanted to read it as a sort of rogue challenge. I was soon both gripped and often found myself being completely chilled one moment, laughing a lot the next and then finding myself quite moved and in a sense thrilled. Not that this is a thriller, far from it, yet as the story goes on and a link between Esther, Mr Chartwell and Churchill becomes more tightly woven you realise something quite dark might be on the horizon, and Mr Chartwell’s agenda, and you simply have to find out what.

Rebecca Hunt’s writing and characters make what could be quite a hard tale to read, both in terms of the subject matter of depression and grief along with the fact your main character is a walking talking huge great beast, an effortless one. It’s both a mixture of being that label they call ‘literary’ whilst being immensely ‘readable’ which, I think, can be a tough combination to accomplish. Esther starts out coming across as rather naïve and scared though as we get more insight into her past we learn she has more going on than meets the eye and it’s a wonderfully human, real and emotional tale. Mr Chartwell, who should be the essence of evil in many ways and is incredibly sinister at times, is a character you will not forget and soon become incredibly fond of despite yourself.

“Churchill spoke in a barely audible whisper, not that it mattered – he knew the thing would be listening.
 ‘Bugger off.’
 There was a long silence as the thing scrabbled to compose itself. Churchill could feel it grinning filthily inthe blackness. It said with unsurpressed relish, ‘No.”

I completely fell for this book; it was a single sitting read. It’s original, compelling, poignant, witty and rather dark too – a perfect mixture. Any author who takes something real, both Chruchills retirement from parliament and Churchill did mention ‘the Black Dog’ on occasion, and makes it this interesting and compelling is one to watch out for. The fact it’s a debut completely blew me away, though why I tend to assume debuts might not be good I don’t know, and I am very excited about what Rebecca Hunt writes next, could she hurry up please? 10/10

I got this book from the library but believe there is one in the post too from the publishers who are being so kind as to offer three of you a copy of it too. All you have to do is tell me what emotion you would turn into a character and what that character is. Go on, I promise you that it’s worth it for the possibility of a read like this popping through your letter box. You have until midnight on Sunday GMT. Good luck!

I admit I am shocked this didn’t make The Orange Longlist on Wednesday, it certainly blew me away and I will be recommending it to anyone and everyone! Has anyone else had the pleasure of Mr Chartwell’s company, and I mean the book, and what did you think?


Filed under Books of 2011, Penguin Books, Rebecca Hunt, Review

17 responses to “Mr Chartwell – Rebecca Hunt

  1. Oh, I would love to get a copy of the book…! The emotion I would turn into the character is excitement – and it would be a pink psychodelic bunny on steroids, hopping around like mad!

  2. Ooh, I have wanted to read this for ages, so I must enter! The emotion I would make into a character would be apathy- I’m thinking a grey woodlouse that doesn’t really seem to express much emotion!

  3. I would turn melancholy into a character – a tiny grey/green fairy surrounded perpetually by rain.

    I just watched the World Book Night programme on iplayer about the 12 debut authors chosen by John Mullan & co, and I must say this book really stood out amongst the rest. What an ingenious idea to turn Churchill’s black dog into a real life character!

  4. Caroline

    I’ve much enjoyed your blog for just over two years now but am coming out of the shadows for the first time to comment. So many emotions spring to mind for this challenge but in the hope of being lucky – having also heard so much praise for ‘Mr Chartwell’ – I would choose to characterise Hope as an ancient tortoise, emerging from hibernation, eyes nonetheless bright and moving slowly to a patch of sunny grass. Fingers crossed!

  5. Like Sakura, I would turn melancholy into a character, but it would be a cat. I could stroke it and pet it, and then it could go on its independent way until it needed to be petted again.

  6. Lisa

    I absolutely loved it, too. It was profound without knocking you over the head with the subject. Really well-done/skillful.Since it’s a 2011 book, maybe it’ll make it on next year’s Orange Prize list? It should, I agree.

  7. Ruthiella

    Ooh yes please! I associate cats with insouciance.

  8. I really enjoyed Mr Chartwell although it does seem to be a bit of a marmite book – some of my friends just couldn’t get past the personfication of depression as a walking/talking/slobbering dog although I thought it worked very well!

  9. I can’t remember if it was you or someone else who first mentioned this book. It sounds fantastic, though. As for the emotion? Loneliness. I am not lonely often but when I am, I hate it. What would I make it into? A puppy or kitten that would remain a puppy or kitten. Who can feel lonely with either around?

  10. Ruthiella

    I would really like to read this book based on your and other enthusiastic reviews. The emotion I would make into a character is optimism as represented by a bounding, floppy-eared Labrador retriever, always ready for a treat or a snuggle.

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  12. Jen

    How interesting! I would take grief and turn it into a pesky fly that keeps buzzing around me, never letting up from distracting me. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t properly understand grief until you’ve lived through it. Take care and I hope you are doing well, Simon.

  13. Lolli

    I read this book while on vacation. I couldn’t put it down. Very interesting way to present grief and depression. However, if you have never been depressed you still my not understand. I’ve recommended this book to my friends.

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