Synopses & Reviews
July 1964. Chartwell House, Kent: Winston Churchill wakes at dawn. There's a dark, mute "presence" in the room that focuses on him with rapt concentration.
It's Mr. Chartwell.
Soon after, in London, Esther Hammerhans, a librarian at the House of Commons, goes to answer the door to her new lodger. Through the glass she sees a vast silhouette the size of a mattress.
It's Mr. Chartwell.
Charismatic, dangerously seductive, Mr. Chartwell unites the eminent statesman at the end of his career and the vulnerable young woman. But can they withstand Mr. Chartwell's strange, powerful charms and his stranglehold on their lives? Can they even explain who or what he is and why he has come to visit?
In this utterly original, moving, funny, and exuberant novel, Rebecca Hunt explores how two unlikely lives collide as Mr. Chartwell's motives are revealed to be far darker and deeper than they at first seem.
"In her sad, hopeful and very original debut, Hunt examines two battles with depression, one that has already been lost and one where there is still a possibility of winning. The story follows the parallel lives of a lonely young London librarian, Esther Hammerhans, and the celebrated statesman, Winston Churchill, during the days before he retires in July of 1964. Esther, whose husband committed suicide two years earlier, is renting out the spare room in her home, but when she opens the door to her new tenant, Mr. Chartwell, she finds herself face to face with a huge talking, upright walking, black dog. Esther soon learns that when Chartwell (aka Black Pat) leaves the house, it is to pay regular visits to Churchill and psychologically torture him, which he has been doing for years. Chartwell is no mere talking dog; he is a dark, lingering presence that has come to try to torment Esther into depression, much like he did her late husband. Taking a hard look at the demons that haunt people, Hunt's story is an clever illumination of the suffering of so many, their status on the social scale offering no protection. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
“[A] marvelously original, tender and funny debut novel...Rebecca Hunt proves herself to be a gifted writer who has no need of fictional realism to deliver profound truths.” The Daily Mail
“Extraordinary...Owing to Hunt’s robust, intelligent style and the ingenuity and compassion with which she deals with her story, [Mr. Chartwell] is very good indeed.” The Daily Telegraph (London)
“Moving...Hunt treats her heavy themes with a light, intelligent touch and writes with a distinctive blend of humour, restraint and insight.” Metro
“Utterly gripping...truly innovative ...beautifully written ...One of those novels which knock you sideways with the brilliance of the idea behind it.” Stylist
"A clever, entertaining, and deliciously literary novel that literally personifies Winston Churchill's "black dog" of melancholy. It is dark comedy at its finest." Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, in Entertainment Weekly
"Please, willingly suspend disbelief and allow Hunt’s vivid imagination to take you on this exuberant fun-house ride through a week in the lives of Esther, Winston, two matchmakers, the easygoing love interest, and the buttoned-up library director at the House of Commons. VERDICT: Already published in Hunt’s home country, Great Britain, this debut novel cleverly combines historical detail, a marvelously subtle sense of humor, and the wit of J.K. Rowling to give readers a quirky assortment of characters they can root for with abandon." Library Journal (starred review)
"A real joy to read: funny, clever and original. A darkly comic debut that hits all the right notes." Scotsman
"Hunt's concept is intriguing, and she paints a vivid picture of the symptoms of depression." Sunday Times
"Offers a powerful evocation of depression. Brilliantly original and thought-provoking. She tackles a serious topic with humour and intelligence and marks herself out as one to watch." Sunday Express
"Inventive and original." Grazia
About the Author
Rebecca Hunt graduated from Central Saint Martins College with a degree in fine art. She lives and works in London. Mr. Chartwell is her first novel.
Reading Group Guide
Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt
1. Winston Churchill referred to his depression as the ‘black dog’. Why do you think depression is called a ‘black dog’? In what ways do you think the term captures the nature of depression?
2. In Mr Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s ‘black dog’ of depression is embodied by Black Pat - a real, monstrously-sized dog who visits both Churchill and a young widow named Esther Hammerhans. Are there differences between Esther and Churchill’s depression? How is this reflected in their relationships with Black Pat?
3. Humour is a feature of Mr Chartwell, even though the book is about depression. Do you think humour can be used when exploring a serious subject, and what role can it play? Does it have a role in the way the characters deal with depression? How does Black Pat himself use humour with the other characters?
4. Esther and Churchill are facing very difficult times in their lives when Black Pat appears. Do you think there are any underlying parallels in the circumstances that affect Churchill and Esther? How are their situations similar?
5. Are Churchill and Esther alone in their battles against Black Pat?
6. How does the personification of depression change the depiction of it in the book? How does it work in context with the other characters?
7. Have attitudes towards depression changed since the 1960’s? Is depression a taboo subject in today’s society? Do you think attitudes differ towards those who are suffering from depression depending on whether they are male or female? If so, how, and why might this be?
8. If it became known that a current political leader had previously suffered from depression, do you think this would influence perceptions of him/her? Is the depression of a high-profile authoritative figure a private personal matter, or information which needs to be made public?
9. Is courage something you are born with or something you learn?
10. Do you think Mr Chartwell has a happy ending?