If you judged the book Mr. Chartwell by its cover, you might think “Oh, a charming dog story.” Well, not exactly. The central character of Rebecca Hunt’s debut novel is indeed a dog named Mr. Chartwell. However, he is not a happy, loving creature. No, Mr. Chartwell, also known as Black Pat, haunts his humans in rather dark, oppressive ways.
The story takes place in England in 1964, during the last days of Winston Churchill’s political career. In fact, Churchill is one of the novel’s main characters. It helps to know that the real Winston Churchill suffered from recurrent depression which he referred to as “the black dog.” Another principal character is a young, grieving woman named Esther. Esther works in the library at the House of Commons, has recently lost her husband, and is looking to take in a boarder to help cover expenses.
As the story unfolds, Black Pat frequently visits both Churchill and the young widow, bringing his strangely powerful charms with him. While Churchill has made his peace with the mutt’s presence, Esther is taken aback by the smelly, talking canine that answers her ad for a boarder. Will Black Pat stay on permanently? Time will tell.
Yes, Mr. Chartwell requires you to suspend your disbelief just a bit. Not only does the dog represent the oppressive nature of depression, he engages his unfortunate companions in regular conversation. Even so, Hunt’s clever storytelling works. The novel reaches a satisfying conclusion when the lives of the legendary leader and the struggling young woman intersect. Engaging characters, humorous dialogue, and a powerful metaphor combine to make Mr. Chartwell a most enjoyable read.