x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Shaggy dog story

Talking canines are rarely the basis for literary greatness and Mr Chartwell is no exception.

Mr Chartwell

Rebecca Hunt

Fig Tree


Apparently Rebecca Hunt has never met a metaphor she didn't like. In the first six sentences of her debut novel Mr Chartwell, there are five, a couple of which are rather painful. Then, on page two, enters the seven-foot-tall, talking dog.

At about that point, readers should know what they are getting into. Hunt has a nice, ambling prose, but she can't seem to resist plugging in pithy little tropes to the point where they become a distraction. Then again, the backbone of the book is not the plot or characters, but what the dog is supposed to represent.

Which is just as well. Of the two main characters, the personification of Winston Churchill as a harmless, genial romantic thoroughly fails to compel. At one point, Churchill mulls to the dog: "I hear the tides of my existence, the years swelling and then replaced. And the decades draw patterns in foam on the sandstone." Those with a weak stomach may find it difficult to soldier on after that bit of prose. Mr Chartwell nonetheless has received warm reviews in Britain. It seems a clever talking dog can make up for a former prime minister spouting drivel about the sea.