Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

February 20, 2011
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Mr. Chartwell
Rebecca Hunt

Random House
2-20-11
Hardcover/256 pages
ISBN: 978-1400069408
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". . .sharp prose and sense of dark absurdity."

Allegorical fantasy told with dark humor and containing a sharp golden heart.

Parliamentary librarian, Esther Hammerhans, put an ad in the newspaper for a renter. She wanted company, someone to help divert her attention from the looming date of her husband’s suicide two years before. What she got was a massive black dog that calls himself Mr. Chartwell. He has business in the city and needs a room to be close to his client—Winston Churchill. Black Pat also has business with Esther, but she does not know it yet.

Winston Churchill called his depression the black dog and in Rebecca Hunt’s fantasy, Mr. Chartwell, Hunt gives the reader a monstrous black dog gorging gleefully on sadness, death and depression, the embodiment of Churchill’s and Esther’s growing depression.

In Mr. Chartwell, Hunt imparts a dark humor in the intersection of Churchill’s retirement from parliament and Esther coming to grips with the second anniversary of her husband’s suicide. Churchill and Esther struggle separately with Black Pat, but it is a struggle that is made eminently readable by Hunt’s sharp prose and sense of dark absurdity.

In many ways, Mr. Chartwell reminds me of the darker version of Harvey in which a man of an upper class family throws off the shackles of his confining life to embrace alcoholism with a huge rabbit named Harvey, a part Jimmy Stewart gives a whimsical turn without leaning too heavily on the darkness at the core of the story. While Mr. Chartwell contains some of the lighter and darker elements of Harvey, Hunt’s allegorical tale is unique and creative in its approach. Although Hunt knows history very well and uses it to good effect, it is in the characters of Black Pat, Esther, Churchill and Corkbowl that make Esther’s first steps back into the world of the living the bright heart of a very dark star.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell

 

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