Author: Rebecca Hunt
Published: The Dial Press; Feb., 2011
Genre: Historical fiction
Synopsis: In her sad, hopeful and very original debut, Hunt examines two battles with depression, one that has already been lost and one where there is still a possibility of winning. The story follows the parallel lives of a lonely young London librarian, Esther Hammerhans, and the celebrated statesman, Winston Churchill, during the days before he retires in July of 1964. Esther, whose husband committed suicide two years earlier, is renting out the spare room in her home, but when she opens the door to her new tenant, Mr. Chartwell, she finds herself face to face with a huge talking, upright walking, black dog. Esther soon learns that when Chartwell (aka Black Pat) leaves the house, it is to pay regular visits to Churchill and psychologically torture him, which he has been doing for years. Chartwell is no mere talking dog; he is a dark, lingering presence that has come to try to torment Esther into depression, much like he did her late husband. 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.
My Take: If I was to pick one word to describe this book it would be: unusual. Mr. Chartwell was unlike any novel I have ever read before. It at turns confused and delighted me. It was a slip of a book so yes I read it quickly but it is one of those books that actually takes some time to fully comprehend. Have I completely confused you yet? Let's dive right in!
The title character Mr. Chartwell is a pseudonym of Black Pat, the personification of Winston Churchill's depression. Yep! You have to suspend your belief for a bit while reading this book because one of the main characters is a huge, walking, talking black lab. It was hard for me to wrap my head around but apparently Churchill suffered from depression his whole life, his whole family did, and his name for it was Black Dog. If you google Churchill and Depression you will see that is indeed the case. So Hunt has turned this on it's head and made the Black Dog an actual being. The Black Dog calls himself Black Pat Chartwell, Chartwell being the famous home of Churchill.
Black Pat has haunted Churchill his whole life but his newest, shall we say victim, is Esther Hammerhans, a sad, lonely librarian who needs a new lodger. When he shows up she is confused and dumbfounded that a walking, talking dog has want to be her lodger and he explains that he was work to do in the area for one week. See this week in 1964 is the week Churchill is retiring from Parliament after his long and illustrious career. Hammerhans decides to let him become a lodger but the true plot stems on whether she will let him become a part of her life. She is sad but will she truly plunge into actual full on depression?
It is an interesting story. If you've ever dealt with depression you would probably find this book an unusual way of describing how it is with you everywhere, takes over the whole room. I enjoyed it because it was so different from anything else I have ever read. Would I have enjoyed it as much if they had belaboured the point? Probably not. But as it was, I would definitely recommend you give this new author a try!
Cover Lust: To me, this book totally says 1960s London, so yes, I love it!