Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mr. Chartwell - Personalizing the Black Dog

Winston Churchill famously battled with depression and, almost as famously, referred to his depression as the "black dog."  What if, though, the black dog wasn't just a euphimistic expression, but rather a physical entity?  What if the black dog was messy, well-spoken, and nearly 7 feet tall when standing on his hind legs?  And with that, Rebecca Hunt had a unique idea for her fascinating debut novel, Mr. Chartwell.  Mr. Chartwell, or Black Pat as he prefers to be called, is the dog whose sole job is to torment Winston Churchill.  Whether it takes the form of chewing rocks within Churchill's hearing or laying bodily across Churchill to make movement difficult, Black Pat is obligated to make life difficult for the former British Prime Minister.

Of course, Churchill is not the only person with whom Black Pat interacts.  He does, after all, need a place to live.  He arrives at the home of librarian Esther Hammerhans offering to pay her handsomely in exchange for lodging for only a few days.  When Esther resignedly agrees to allow him to stay, he begins insidiously involving himself in her life, while her friends encourage her to stay positive as an important date looms.

The twists aren't necessarily unexpected, but are clever and illuminating.  Hunt has written a touching story about the nature of depression and those affected by it.  She has done so with subtle wit and a keen eye for characters. At 242 pages, it is a quick read that will stay with you for a while. 

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