Review by John for Mr. Chartwell ~ by Rebecca Hunt (ARC edition)
A wonderfully original and entertaining debut novel that pits Winston Churchill and a humble librarian against a most unusual common enemy.
About: Winston Churchill has been a brilliant leader, orator and statesman. At 89 years of age he is about to announce his retirement from the British Parliament after a long and illustrious career. Esther Hammerhans is a young librarian in the House of Commons, struggling to cope after losing her husband. For many years Churchill has known Black Pat; and now on the eve of Churchill’s retirement Black Pat turns up at Esther’s door and wants to become her new lodger.
Despite being charismatic, clever, funny and seductive, Black Pat is not Churchill’s friend. He is a huge black dog that is the very embodiment of depression and he is determined to make Churchill’s life a misery. The two continuously spar with each other, both being armed with inordinate determination and barbed wits. But what does Black Pat want from Esther? At first she is unaware of Black Pat’s true nature. He is at once scary and weirdly charming, and he quickly insinuates himself into her life. Can she resist his advances? It seems that Churchill, Esther and Black Pat are being drawn together into a strange “folie à trois”.
John’s thoughts: This was one of those occasions when you read something that is totally unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Full of wit, charm and no small degree of melancholy, this is a clever and entertaining read. If you think the notion of Winston Churchill and an educated librarian having serious conversations with a huge dog is outrageous, you should read the book – it all seems to make perfect sense! And Black Pat is such a wonderful character.
You also get some great insights into Churchill (who really did fight a long battle with the “black dog” of depression). While he has a momentous struggle on his hands, you know that he’s been strong enough to pull through so far; but you can’t help but root for Esther and will her to do the right thing. She seems to be so weak and vulnerable and yet she’s so likeable. You also meet some other interesting characters, including Churchill’s wife Clementine, and the odd bunch who work at the House of Commons library.
How does it all end up? You’ll have to read the book of course; and I hope than many of you do. This is a great debut novel and I’d rate it 4 stars. Very highly recommended for anyone who likes black humor, historical fiction, or refreshingly different subject matter.
The top cover is for the US, the one below is for Canada, the next is UK and the bottom is a paperback edition for the UK. Which cover do you prefer?
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Have a fun Friday.