The story of Hamlet
is not usually thought of as one meant for laughter. But Matt Haig's able retelling of the tale in The Dead Fathers Club
will make you laugh, though it might also evoke a tear. Eleven-year-old Philip Noble is at his father's funeral when who should appear but his father's ghost, who wastes no time in telling Philip that his Uncle Alan, an auto mechanic, tampered with his car, causing the accident that killed him. He warns Philip that Uncle Alan will shortly be tampering with his mother too, because Unctuous Uncle Alan wants the pub that Philip's father owned.
The solution to this problem, according to Philip's dad, is that he must kill Uncle Alan. If he doesn't do it before Dad's next birthday, 11 weeks away, Dad will be consigned to the Terrors for all eternity. Philip agrees, in principle, but killing someone, especially without getting caught, isn't easy. But a promise is a promise, so Philip gives it a whirl, in fact, several whirls. Real life interferes in the persons of two school bullies, truly nasty and perverse thugs, who seem ready to kill Philip because they think it's funny that his father died. Philip also falls in love, and his Ophelia (named Leah) thinks that shoplifting is tons of fun. Poor Philip is in over his head in every way possible. There are many encounters with other Dead Fathers in a great sendup of ghostly dealings, Hamlet-like, on the moors, and several sly references to the play. There is even a character named Dane. The ending is not pure Shakespeare, but it is pure Haig and that is very good indeed. --Valerie Ryan
From Publishers Weekly
Haig (The Last Family in England
) creatively reanimates themes from Hamlet
with an 11-year-old British protagonist who is commissioned to avenge his father's murder. After Philip Noble passes his hand through his father's flickering spirit at the funeral, Dad reveals the truth: it was conniving auto mechanic Uncle Alan who orchestrated the automobile "accident" that claimed his life, and Philip must kill Uncle Alan by dead Dad's next birthday—barely 11 weeks away—or he'll be consumed forever by the Terrors. Time is fleeting, however, as repugnant Uncle Alan has already begun to put the moves on Philip's mother and has taken over the family pub's operations. In animated, adolescent prose, Philip, goaded on by his father's ghost, plots his uncle's murder. Besides the time-sensitive obligation, Philip must also contend with the slings and arrows of adolescent life: friends, girls, meddling schoolteachers, bullies and peer pressure. The plucky hero impressively navigates the gloomy, pungent waters of retribution, death and guilt, and Haig does an enviable job of leavening a sad premise through the words and actions of a charming, resilient young man. (Feb.)
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