I received Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. It was published earlier this year.
About the Book:
Wednesday, July 22, 1964: Winston Churchill awakes to a presence in his room. It’s a familiar presence, one he’s grown accustomed to, but it’s not friendly or welcome. Rather, it is something to be endured.
Meanwhile, Esther Hammerhans waits to meet her potential lodger. But when Mr. Chartwell arrives, he isn’t at all what she’d expected. He is, in fact, beyond even the scope of her imagination. She’s hesitant to take him on, but his exorbitant monetary offer is difficult to turn down. Should she let him stay?
The summary above is deliberately vague. I think part of what’s fun about Mr. Chartwell is uncovering its bizarreness along with Esther. If you want to hear more about the plot, there are plenty of reviews out there that will tell you.
I’m going to start with what I didn’t like about the book, which, overall, is rather small and easy to skip. I’ve heard there is a book called When You Catch an Adjective, Kill it. I don’t know what it’s about, beyond the broad topic of grammar, but over and over during the first half of the book, the title phrase popped into mind. Each chapter (and they are short, so there are many) begins with a paragraph or two that describes the scene. It pained me to read them. (And I like adjectives, so if I was annoyed, that’s bad.) I think at one point I counted seven adjectives preceding a noun. I’ll be honest–I started skipping them. I liked the book much better.
The rest of Hunt’s writing is quite lovely. Her dialogue is snappy, her characters lovable. The plot, though completely strange, worked. The novel is relatively short, very easy to read, stripped of what is unnecessary (except for those darned adjectives!). I found it impossible to capture the essence of Mr. Chartwell in a single word. Instead, as I read, I wrote down four: creepy, funny, intriguing, puzzling. And it really was all those things.
The novel deals, first and foremost, with depression, and as I read, I wished I knew more about it; I know next to nothing. I found myself wondering if the way Hunt portrayed it was accurate. Does it run in families? Is it something that can be turned away from, to a point? I am curious to know more. If Hunt accurately turned depression into a character, I think the book would make for an interesting learning tool.
I have to say, I really enjoyed Black Pat’s dog-like tendencies and how he seemed powerless to resist their urges. Also, Dennis-John cracked me up.
I’d recommend Mr. Chartwell if you’re up for trying something a little off-beat or if you’re looking for a quick read that’s clever and funny, light without being fluffy.