A Letter from Author Rebecca Hunt
© Angus Muir
The central premise of Mr. Chartwell
is that Winston Churchill’s ‘black dog’ of depression is imagined as an independent character, free to walk, talk, and stalk others as he did with Churchill. The book follows the charismatic but menacing black dog--called Mr. Chartwell, but known as Black Pat by his closer acquaintances--as he weaves his devious influence into the lives of Churchill and Esther Hammerhans, a young widow. In different ways, both Esther and Churchill are approaching the end of deeply significant relationships, and the dog arrives to plague them as they face their challenges.
Depression is an intensely personal affliction, and I felt personifying it as Black Pat provided me with an opportunity to translate the emotions of the characters affected by his presence as dialogue, engaging them in conversation about their situations. It may be an unusual way to broach such a difficult topic, but I was immediately struck by the possibilities this opened up to me. There is no such thing as a definitive description of depression, I believe it varies with the individual, but I wanted to create a version of depression which was honest and true to my personal understanding of it. Using the dark and dynamic character of Mr. Chartwell gave me a vehicle to explore Churchill and Esther’s circumstances in greater detail, and in many ways, with a more accessible expression of the sensitivity I felt towards the subject and characters.
I was also struck by how perfectly the ‘black dog’ description can be used to capture the nature of depression. It takes the typical characteristics of a dog--the loyalty and attachment, along with the predatory and instinctual aspects--and converts them into something corruptive. This dog takes the image of man’s best friend and reverses it, becoming a jealously devoted companion who works against you from within you. However, for all this, Mr Chartwell isn’t just a book about depression. It is equally about redemption, courage and love. And, for me, it is predominantly and most importantly about hope.
From Publishers Weekly
In her sad, hopeful and very original debut, Hunt examines two battles with depression, one that has already been lost and one where there is still a possibility of winning. The story follows the parallel lives of a lonely young London librarian, Esther Hammerhans, and the celebrated statesman, Winston Churchill, during the days before he retires in July of 1964. Esther, whose husband committed suicide two years earlier, is renting out the spare room in her home, but when she opens the door to her new tenant, Mr. Chartwell, she finds herself face to face with a huge talking, upright walking, black dog. Esther soon learns that when Chartwell (aka Black Pat) leaves the house, it is to pay regular visits to Churchill and psychologically torture him, which he has been doing for years. Chartwell is no mere talking dog; he is a dark, lingering presence that has come to try to torment Esther into depression, much like he did her late husband. Taking a hard look at the demons that haunt people, Hunt's story is an clever illumination of the suffering of so many, their status on the social scale offering no protection. (Feb.)
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