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October 18, 2010 6:55 am
Mr Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt, Fig Tree RRP£12.99, 250 pages
Mr Chartwell, aka Black Pat, is a man-sized Labrador; the embodiment of Winston Churchill’s “black dog” of depression. In Rebecca Hunt’s charming and original debut, set over six days in July 1964, Churchill and a young widow called Esther Hammerhans are visited – and terrorised – by this unusual character.
The cigar-chomping former PM is preparing to retire from parliament; Esther, meanwhile, is looking for a lodger and – under pressure from her friend – a love interest. Perhaps rather too neatly, their lives are drawn together around the shaggy and shadowy figure of Mr Chartwell, who has dominated Churchill’s life for years and is now moving into Esther’s.
Hunt’s literal take on the metaphorical black dog provides an attention-grabbing and at times humorous approach to the novel’s central theme of depression. Although in places a touch romcom – Esther’s pal Beth is a Richard Curtis-esque cipher – Mr Chartwell is a rewarding and entertaining debut.
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