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Five Things About Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

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Mr.chartwell Rebecca Hunt Cover1. If I tell you this is a book about depression, you won’t want to read it. At least, I wouldn’t want to read it. Depression is real, yes, but depression also tends to be static; it clogs and slows and dilutes its victim. Which makes for boring fiction. So I won’t tell you that this book is about depression (because it’s not very true, anyway). I will instead tell you that this book is about Winston Churchill, which also isn’t tremendously true. Winston Churchill struggled with depression during his life, referring to it as a black dog. Well, in this book, depression is truly a black dog, six feet tall and smelly and just there. So there you go. This is practically a dog book.

2. Also, it’s not really about depression. It’s about strength. Possibly this makes it a not-depressing book with depression as a main character. Rebecca Hunt is a very clever wordsmith, and I had to stop a few times to read sentences out loud because of how very TRUE their contents were. I love a book that makes me nod and say “that’s exactly how it is! I never thought of it that way!” (Well, I don’t really say that. I just go GAH and read it out loud. But that’s what I mean.)

3. Plus, it’s funny. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how sadness and laughter live right next door to each other. This book nails that. Hunt is well aware of the humor inherent in a six foot tall dog named Mr. Chartwell looking for a room to let, and she runs with it.

4. The metaphor is pretty stinkin’ impeccable. I really think this exchange between one of the narrators, Esther, and the black dog, Mr. Chartwell, is a great example of both the book’s humor and the effectiveness of the metaphor. She has just asked him how it is that Mr. Chartwell affects Churchill, and he replies: “It’s hard to explain. With Churchill we know each other’s movements, so we have a routine, I guess. I like to be there when he wakes up in the morning. Sometimes I drape across his chest. That slows him down for a bit. And then I like to lie around in the corner of the room, crying out like I have terrible injuries. Sometimes I’ll burst out at him from behind some furniture and bark in his face. During meals I’ll squat near his plate and breathe over his food. I might lean on him too when he’s standing up, or hang off him in some way. I also make an effort to block out the sunlight whenever I can.”

5. The novel never overstays its welcome. Short chapters fill its brief 242 pages, making for a speedy read. The conceit of a panting black dog following people around might have gotten old if Hunt had let it, but — unlike Mr. Chartwell — Hunt gives the reader precisely what is needed and then is gone before there can be an aftertaste.

Maggie Stiefvater
Hi, I'm Maggie Stiefvater

Professional novelist by day and artist by night. I live an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with my charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, and neurotic dogs. I’m the author of the Books of Faerie (LAMENT and BALLAD); the bestselling SHIVER trilogy (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER), and THE SCORPIO RACES.

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