By Rebecca Hunt
Completed April 28, 2011
We all have our demons, and for Winston Churchill, his was depression. It plagued Churchill his entire life – so much so that he named it “Black Dog.” Churchill’s battle with his Black Dog has been documented and written about, but not like how Rebecca Hunt does in her extraordinary book, Mr. Chartwell.
Esther Hammerhans is a widowed librarian with a room to rent. When a knock comes to her door from her would-be boarder, imagine Esther’s surprise when she finds it’s a large black dog who calls himself Mr. Chartwell. Mr. Chartwell is all dog – furry, smelly, hungry – but also quite human with eloquent speech and a convincing manner. He somehow persuades the reluctant Esther to take him in as a boarder.
For Mr. Chartwell, or Black Pat as he becomes, staying at Esther’s has two advantages. First, it puts him near Winston Churchill, who is about to retire from Parliament. It also puts him near Esther, who is grieving over the loss of her husband. Black Pat can only be seen by people he’s after – people who are depressed, grieving and maybe a little lonely. Winston and Esther are perfect for him.
Hunt’s characterization is marvelous. Personifying depression as a big, clumsy, humorous and opportunistic dog was nothing short of remarkable. While Winston may have named it, Hunt gives Black Pat his character. Through Black Pat’s actions, you can see how depression isolates people, offering them a sense of security in a world of otherwise happy people. Hunt’s depictions of Winston Churchill and the meek Esther also add greatly to this novel. You root for them both, hoping they can kick the proverbial dog to the curb.
Thankfully, I’ve never suffered from depression, so I can’t say if Hunt’s depiction of this disease is correct or not. I can say, though, that Hunt delivers an inventive and compelling story that gives readers a view of this disease – perhaps one no one has considered. Despite the darkness of depression, after finishing Mr. Chartwell, I was left with a sense of hope that people can overcome this condition – and move on to brighter points in their lives. ( )
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.