Winston Churchill famously referred to his depression as a “black dog” and, in her debut novel, Rebecca Hunt brings this black dog to life. The listener meets Mr. Chartwell or Black Pat, as he arrives at the door of Esther, a young widow, to become her lodger in 1964 Britain. The listener is also privy to Churchill’s struggles and conversations with the same Black Pat. The novel follows the two characters as they both approach important days in their lives Churchill as he marches towards his retirement after an illustrious career and Esther as she faces a sad anniversary.
Actor and veteran narrator Susan Duerden brilliantly performs the novel. She brings a simmering intensity to her performance that is perfect as the tension builds. She seamlessly switches among the characters and is equally strong performing both the female and male characters. Duerden’s interpretation of the material makes for a compelling listen.
Mr. Chartwell is an original and well-written book. Hunt thoughtfully examines depression, conveying its seductive qualities and the life-long battles people wage with it. Churchill becomes a very real and engaging character with the inclusion of historical and personal details, such as the fact that many other members of his family dealt with and were lost to depression. Hunt shines as she sympathetically relates Black Pat’s persistent and powerful torture. She adds bits of humor to temper the serious subject matter that make the novel easier to digest.
Mr. Chartwell is an example of a love it or hate it listen. The necessity of suspension of disbelief and lots of dialogue may be off-putting for some. Fans, however, will love the cleverness and the mix of metaphor, wit, and history. It would make a very interesting pick for book clubs. Overall, though not for everyone, Mr. Chartwell is a unique and smart novel that is flawlessly performed. Julie MacDonald
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.