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Mr. Chartwell

Mr. Chartwell

3.5 4
by Rebecca Hunt

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July 1964. Chartwell House, Kent: Winston Churchill wakes at dawn. There’s a dark, mute “presence” in the room that focuses on him with rapt concentration.

It’s Mr. Chartwell.

Soon after, in London, Esther Hammerhans, a librarian at the House of Commons, goes to answer the door to her new lodger. Through the glass she sees a vast


July 1964. Chartwell House, Kent: Winston Churchill wakes at dawn. There’s a dark, mute “presence” in the room that focuses on him with rapt concentration.

It’s Mr. Chartwell.

Soon after, in London, Esther Hammerhans, a librarian at the House of Commons, goes to answer the door to her new lodger. Through the glass she sees a vast silhouette the size of a mattress.

It’s Mr. Chartwell.

Charismatic, dangerously seductive, Mr. Chartwell unites the eminent statesman at the end of his career and the vulnerable young woman. But can they withstand Mr. Chartwell’s strange, powerful charms and his stranglehold on their lives? Can they even explain who or what he is and why he has come to visit?

In this utterly original, moving, funny, and exuberant novel, Rebecca Hunt explores how two unlikely lives collide as Mr. Chartwell’s motives are revealed to be far darker and deeper than they at first seem.

Editorial Reviews

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.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Mr. Chartwell
“[A] marvellously original, tender and funny debut novel . . . Rebecca Hunt proves herself to be a gifted writer who has no need of fictional realism to deliver profound truths.”—The Daily Mail
“Extraordinary . . . Owing to Hunt’s robust, intelligent style and the ingenuity and compassion with which she deals with her story, [Mr. Chartwell] is very good indeed.”—The Daily Telegraph (London)
“Moving . . . Hunt treats her heavy themes with a light, intelligent touch and writes with a distinctive blend of humour, restraint and insight.”—Metro
“Utterly gripping . . . truly innovative . . . beautifully written . . . One of those novels which knock you sideways with the brilliance of the idea behind it.”—Stylist

"A clever, entertaining, and deliciously literary novel that literally personifies Winston Churchill's "black dog" of melancholy. It is dark comedy at its finest."
– Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, in Entertainment Weekly

"Please, willingly suspend disbelief and allow Hunt’s vivid imagination to take you on this exuberant funhouse ride through a week in the lives of Esther, Winston, two matchmakers, the easygoing love interest, and the buttoned-up library director at the House of Commons. VERDICT: Already published in Hunt’s home country, Great Britain, this debut novel cleverly combines historical detail, a marvelously subtle sense of humor, and the wit of J.K. Rowling to give readers a quirky assortment of characters they can root for with abandon."
-- Library Journal (starred review)

"A real joy to read: funny, clever and original. A darkly comic debut that hits all the right notes."
-- Scotsman

"Hunt's concept is intriguing, and she paints a vivid picture of the symptoms of depression."
-- Sunday Times

"Offers a powerful evocation of depression. Brilliantly original and thought-provoking. She tackles a serious topic with humour and intelligence and marks herself out as one to watch."
-- Sunday Express

"Inventive and original."
-- Grazia

"A remarkable debut. These are some of the best evocations of depression you’ll read."
-- Observer

"Powerful and original. Rebecca Hunt is a name to watch."
- The Bookseller

Library Journal
When librarian Esther Hammerhans decides to rent a room in her London flat to Mr. Chartwell, she has no idea what she's allowing into her solitary life. Mr. Chartwell, aka Black Pat, is, you see, a dog—a huge, odiferous, walking, talking physical mess of an animal, who inexplicably exudes a most charming, seductive manner. He has, he confides to Esther, a final job to do at the home of Winston and Clementine Churchill in nearby Kent. History has noted Sir Winston's long battle with depression, his bête noire as he called it, the "black dog" that accompanied him throughout his life. So what does Black Pat now want with Esther? How will she avoid falling prey to his dark, hulking presence? Please, willingly suspend disbelief and allow Hunt's vivid imagination to take you on this exuberant funhouse ride through a week in the lives of Esther, Winston, two matchmakers, the easygoing love interest, and the buttoned-up library director at the House of Commons. VERDICT Already published in Hunt's home country, Great Britain, this debut novel cleverly combines historical detail, a marvelously subtle sense of humor, and the wit of J.K. Rowling to give readers a quirky assortment of characters they can root for with abandon.—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL
Kirkus Reviews

The "black dog" of depression that famously haunted Sir Winston Churchill, Britain's political leader through World War II, is made flesh in a quirky debut.

Rococo both in its imagination and phrasing, Hunt's first novel is a tragicomic fantasy set in July 1964, Churchill's 89th year and the one in which he will finally retire from parliament. Spread over the six days leading up to this significant moment, the book is essentially a triangle of debate between the elderly politician; Esther Hammerhans, a widow seeking a lodger for her spare room; and a colossal black hound known first as Mr. Chartwell (after Churchill's home) but later Black Pat. The gigantic, foul-smelling animal can not only walk on its hind legs, talk and make jokes and literary references, but also threaten, seduce, distract and destroy. Churchill's relationship with Black Pat is long, while Esther's is only just beginning. In an episodic, rather scant, darkly whimsical story, the turning point comes when Esther, a library clerk at the House of Parliament, is sent to Chartwell to act as temporary secretary to Churchill. His words to her, reminiscent of the best of his wartime exhortations to the British people, help her find the power to resist Black Pat's allure and choose differently.

A witty, intelligent curiosity of a novel—less a story, more a recipe for mental health presented in light fictional form.

Ron Charles
…a spirited tonic, maybe just the thing to rebalance your humors……This novel really shouldn't work. I know it sounds maudlin, even obscenely silly, a grown-up version of Eeyore who encourages people to slit their wrists and swallow pills. But Hunt maintains the story's poignancy on a razor's edge, balancing the light romantic comedy involving Esther and her friends at the library with the tragedy of her stoic grief at home. And as an allegory of depression, Mr. Chartwell is remarkably illuminating.
—The Washington Post

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Wednesday 22 July 1964

chapter 1

5.30 a.m.

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill’s mouth was pursed as if he had a slice of lemon hidden in there. Now aged eighty-nine, he often woke early. Grey dawn appeared in a crack between the curtains, amassing the strength to invade. Churchill prepared himself for the day ahead, his mind putting out analytical fingers and then coming at the day in a fist, ready for it.

A view of the Weald of Kent stretched beyond the window, lying under an animal skin of mist. Bordered to the west by Crockham Hill and to the east by Toys Hill, Churchill’s red-brick house sat in a shallow coomb, enclosed by a horseshoe of ancient forest that opened in a long, green horizon to the south.

Although he was fully awake, Churchill’s eyes remained closed. On his back, the bedcovers pulled and folded at his waist, he lay with his arms alongside the quilted log of his body. On the other side of the house, Clementine lay sleeping in her four-poster bed. He thought of his wife, wishing to be with her.

But Churchill wasn’t alone in his bedroom; something else in the dark, a mute bulk in the corner, a massive thing, was watching him with tortured concentration.

Churchill was aware of its presence. He didn’t need to see or hear it to know it was there; he had more of a sense, an instinctual certainty when it appeared. Its eyes pressed on him hotly, imploring him to wake up. It willed him to move. After hours of waiting it ached with the desire to explode from the corner and shake him.

Churchill spoke in a barely audible whisper, not that it mattered—he knew the thing would be listening.

“Bugger off.”

There was a long silence as the thing scrabbled to compose itself. Churchill could feel it grinning filthily in the blackness. It said with unsuppressed relish, “No.”

chapter 2

8.30 a.m.

In a terraced house in Battersea, Esther Hammerhans came tearing down the stairs with one arm through a cardigan sleeve, the rest flapping at her legs, and turned off the hob. The kettle stopped its screaming, throwing out hysterical clouds of steam. Esther found the teapot and filled it with hot water, some spilling over the work surface. The tea leaves had been forgotten, something she discovered five minutes later, after a wild campaign with the washing up. “Idiots!” she cursed the tea leaves, beating them into the water with a spoon.

Then she put on the entire cardigan. This seemed a good step, a positive move. A moment passed where she calmed herself; it was important to look calm. Mr. Chartwell would ar- rive at any minute; it was important that the first impression be a good one. She admired the yellow cabinet doors and drawers which she had scrubbed earlier, the walls painted a paler yellow and lit with a fluorescent tube on the ceiling. The dark-orange tiled floor had been mopped, pots of spices and dried herbs arranged neatly on wiped white-gloss shelves. The blue Formica-topped kitchen table was arranged with a vase of flowers, a stainless-steel candlestick there for show as if she used it every day. Sugar cubes were stacked into the only small bowl without chips. A tasteless bowl designed to resemble a cockerel; Esther had hidden the cockerel-head lid in a drawer.

Esther went to the mirror hung near the window and examined herself, seeing a wispy, long-haired person with a delicate underbite. She had always been slim, slimmer now and a bit bare with it. The mirror returned a smile which expressed fatigue, a varnish of melancholy painted behind the features. The general package, Esther decided, would not benefit from further examination.

The boxroom she wanted to rent didn’t have many things but it did have a garden view. Light mobbed every crevice from the first gloss of daybreak, and this would flaunt the room’s extreme cleanliness. The carpet, meticulously hoovered, had come up well and showed its brilliant ochre colour, the colour of a toy lion. A decorative earthenware tile hung on the wall above the bed—a painted scene of a hillside village in Greece, the white cottages whirling with violently green-and-orange foliage, thick black lines everywhere as if drawn with a thumb. Her friend Beth had loaned her a single bed, a very modest and old bed which didn’t look so humble when dressed with fresh sheets and blankets. The lightbulb was decorated with a woven wicker shade, purchased last week, which Esther felt gave the room a sense of style. A new wardrobe completed the room’s transformation into a bedroom. If necessary she would throw in the occasional use of her car.

But—disappointment—only one note of interest had answered her advert, silently hand-delivered yesterday evening from a Mr. Chartwell requesting a viewing in the morning. The lettering was savage and strange, pressed so hard into the paper the commas were torn through. It seemed to Esther this note had been written by someone deeply unfamiliar with a pen, someone who held it like a pole they wanted to bang into the ground. Finding the note, Esther had creased it in a fist, stunned suddenly at the idea of sharing her home, the idea of the intrusion making her gently seasick.

Maybe, thought Esther, now in the front room at the record player, she should put some music on to insinuate that she was a hip landlady as well as a calm one. Mr. Chartwell was probably a music fan; he would appreciate the charts. The Rolling Stones were number one with “It’s All Over Now,” and Esther had bought the single. She busied herself with this task, supremely confident. With the needle on the record, the song blared at an obscene volume, Mick Jagger’s voice screaming through the tissues of her head. Esther snatched the needle off.

The music was abandoned and silence restored. Then, just as quickly, it was overthrown.

The doorbell buzzed. In the kitchen, Esther stood motionless, feeling the hoof-kick of nerves. A few seconds passed. The doorbell called again.

“Right, here we go, I suppose,” she said to a photograph of Michael on the windowsill. That funny chin angled left, broad-shouldered in a blue denim shirt, the top two buttons undone. His big face was captured in a moment of serenity, grey eyes trained on something beyond the sights of the camera. Esther imagined what he would say to her and then his voice was in her ears, summoned from a library of memories, talking as if through a seashell. He made a few comments, all practical. His words were encouraging, so she stayed there, listening. I miss you, Esther said to Michael. He whispered something, a hand on her cheek. Then the doorbell issued its instructions with new ferocity. Michael clicked off. Esther went to let Mr. Chartwell in.

The first thing she noticed was that Mr. Chartwell was a colossal man. He filled the porch with the silhouette of a mattress, darkening the pane of frosted glass. As she walked towards the front door a weird odour developed and intensified, emanating from the doorway. It smelt like an ancient thing that had been kept permanently damp; a smell of cave soil.

Esther’s instincts transmitted high-frequency pulses of intuitive information. They told her that someone odd and kinky awaited her, someone with a rare kinkiness that rode off the spectrum. They told her to hide. But hide where? There was nothing in the hallway to dive behind, it was a wasteland. And what about their appointment? Her dutiful feet pushed forwards.

Opening the door was as violently traumatic as anything could conceivably be, the shock of it blasting out like a klaxon. Esther mashed herself against the wall. She watched with billboard eyes and didn’t move.

Mr. Chartwell’s black lips carved a cordial smile. “Mrs. Esther Hammerhans?” He extended a paw the size of a turnip. “Hello, I’ve come about the room.”

Meet the Author

Rebecca Hunt graduated from Central Saint Martins College with a degree in fine art. She lives and works in London. Mr. Chartwell is her first novel.

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Mr. Chartwell 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Nuronfire More than 1 year ago
Initially I selected this book after a recommendation from a friend. I was interested because I think Winston Churchill was an interesting personality. Rebecca Hunt does a good job uniquely personifying depression. It makes for an interesting perspective and a book that is both dramatic, and at times quite funny! I would call this book a casual sort of read - almost historical fiction. That said, the only historical part is probably the one character of Winston Churchill. If you like history you would probably like this book. I would even say that if you liked a wide range of fantasy/science fiction you may want to try it just because of her characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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AAR More than 1 year ago
MR. CHARTWELL by Rebecca Hunt is a novel set in 1964 London.It is this author's first novel.It is written with details.It has depression,strangers,sorrow,widows, intrigue,mental issues, a dog and saddness. It is two battles,one already lost and the other one has the possiblilty of being won.Depression can be strange, demanding and can overtake the person who is depressed. Although,something in this book did not work for me,it does tackle the sensitive issues of depression and mental issues.This book was reveceived for the purpose of review from the publisher and details can be found at The Dial Press,an imprint of The Random House Publishing,Group and My Book Addiction and More.