By Rebecca Hunt, Dial Press, $24.95, 242 pages
London author Rebecca Hunt makes her debut into the literary world with her first novel, Mr. Chartwell. Despite a rather contained protagonist, Hunt unfurls a richly detailed and skillfully suspenseful work. The two main characters, Winston Churchill and Esther Hammerhans, a library clerk at the House of Commons, are haunted by the same vice: the depression Churchill historically referred to as a “black dog.” In Mr. Chartwell, Hunt makes this metaphor literal; personifying depression as a giant, black, talking dog named “Mr. Chartwell,” or “Black Pat.” When Esther, a conservative, rather average woman, puts out an ad for a lodger, she in no way expects to be confronted with Black Pat, who, despite his sometimes comical drunken entrances, witty riddles, and Marilyn Monroe impressions, drives her into a dangerous state of isolation. Black Pat concedes that he “didn’t come until sent for,” and Esther and Churchill attempt to discover whether they can shake him before he costs them their lives.
Though many may protest to the novel’s implications that depression, and recovery from depression, is an act of volition, Hunt’s black humor nevertheless offers a uniquely crafted perspective on a disorder that is commonly experienced, yet rarely understood.
Reviewed by Emily Davis