Mr Chartwell – Rebecca Hunt

William Churchill often spoke of his “black dog” of depression. Mr Chartwell imagines what might have happened if that black dog had been real.

Black Pat is the man-sized Labrador responsible for Churchill’s depression.

‘Sometimes I drape across his chest. That slows him down for a bit. And then I like to lie around in the corner of the room, crying out like I have terrible injuries. Sometimes I’ll burst out at him from behind some furniture and bark in his face. During meals I’ll squat near his plate and breathe over his food. I might lean on him too when he’s standing up, or hang off him in some way. I also make an effort to block out the sunlight whenever I can.’

The book begins with Black Pat replying to an advertisement for a room to rent – surprising the landlady, Esther. Bemused, she offers him a room and begins a difficult relationship with the over-sized dog.

Black Pat has to be one of the best characters I’ve come across recently – I loved the originality of the talking, giant dog and enjoyed his attempts at fitting into human society. Some of his scenes had me crying with laughter (especially the one where he tried to barbecue a coot), but despite the comedy of several sections I found this book to be unsatisfying overall. I thought that the book contained a series of fantastic scenes, but thought that the plot was quite weak and some of the connecting sections failed to grab my attention.

Mr Chartwell was short and easy to read and so I flew through it in a couple of sittings, but I felt that the lightness and humour took something away from the subject matter. I never felt Churchill’s depression or saw Black Pat as anything more than a giant mischievous animal. This book should have had darker undercurrents and some insight into depression, but instead it just skirted around the real issues.

Overall this book had a fantastic premise and some sparks of genius, but it didn’t quite work for me.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

I loved the opening chapters of this book but started to lose interest a little bit as I got further into the story. She Reads Novels

I completely fell for this book; it was a single sitting read. It’s original, compelling, poignant, witty and rather dark too – a perfect mixture. Savidge Reads

I came away from Mr Chartwell feeling that it hadn’t quite achieved what it seemed to be aiming for. Follow the Thread

20 replies on “Mr Chartwell – Rebecca Hunt”

Stu, There were lots of great things about this book and so I’ll probably try her future ones (depending on the subject matter). I’ll let you know if they are any better 🙂

I’ve written a review which will be coming out next week sometime, but I did like it more than you did, I think. I definitely got the dark undercurrents coming through, and found it quite menacing.

Simon, I think you and I have very different ideas of menacing. 🙂 I think I’ve become hardened by reading books about the Holocaust etc and so books like this do not come close to the darkness of those. Even compared to other books about depression (eg. This is How, Beside the Sea) this book seems very light and didn’t portray any of the emotions that those with depression feel. I look forward to reading your thoughts next week.

I’m hoping to read this one very soon as it looked very promising. It looks like it’s brilliant but not dark enough for you? I suppose as the black dog signifies depression you would expect it to be quite dark. I’ll just have to see for myself:)

Sakura, There are some great scenes, but I think they get lost amongst the rest of the book. I’ll be interested to see your thoughts on it. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

I did get the darker undertones but that might be because I had no idea what the book was about, some of Chartwells darker comments really srung out at me.

After saying that I do agree mostly with your comments and can see where you coming from.

Jessica, Perhaps I was so busy looking for them that I failed to spot them? I don’t know why – all I can say is that it didn’t quite work for me.

My feelings about this book were very much the same as yours. I thought it was funny and very original but overall it was too light for me. I was hoping for a more in-depth look at depression, which we didn’t really get.

Helen, I don’t think I was looking for an in-depth look at depression – it was more that I found the dog funny and so couldn’t see him causing a depression. Pperhaps it is just my attitude to dogs? I seem to think of them as companion animals who might help prevent depression and a big hairy dog lying on me might actually cheer me up! He needed to be scarier to be convincing.

I did get the darker undertones, but I think this may be one of hose instances where your reaction to a book is heavily dependent on your own experiences. My experience is that once depression reaches a certain level it never quite goes away. It can be managed but it doesn’t go and it can return. A similar thing to alcoholice being recovering rather than cured if you like. But I do agree that while Mr Chartwell was very readable there was more that could have been said.

FleurFisher, I have never heard of depression being described in that way before, but what you say makes a lot of sense. Thank you for making me look at it in a different way.

I am looking forward to reading this book. It is currently on my shelf waiting!

I like reading differing views, it makes me less anxious about reading a book where eveyone is firmly in one camp than the other.

Jo, This book does seem to be dividing opinions, although everyone seems to like some aspects of it. Whether you love it or not I’m sure you’ll enjoy some sections.

I thought Hunt’s decision to use a humorous device to tackle depression was really brave and very interesting since the disease can manifest in so many ways. I think for me, as much as Churchill was the starting point, the book was really about Esther. She was the person I found the most fascinating!

Steph, I agree about this book being about Esther, but I think that might have been part of my problem with it. Churchill played quite a small role in this book, but I guess I focused on him because I already knew who he was. My problem with Esther was that I couldn’t really picture her. She wasn’t described in enough detail to really come to life – Black Pat was a much more vivid character.

I was looking forward to your thoughts on this book. I’m about 3/4 of the way through it and I’m really enjoying it. I find myself laughing a lot and I agree that, although I know Churchhill’s depression is bad, I’m not getting the impression of despair, intense brooding or dark thoughts. The characters are almost too quirky to be anything other than amusing which also describes some of the story’s details. It’s a quick read as you said and, although some of the sentences are awkward, It’s a great debut book.

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