Mr. Chartwell
Rebecca Hunt
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Buy *Mr. Chartwell* by Rebecca Hunt online

Mr. Chartwell
Rebecca Hunt
The Dial Press
256 pages
February 2011
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Although I felt constantly at odds with Huntís strange, deceptively simple novel, it is impossible to resist the authorís charming prose as retiring Winston Churchill and young library clerk Esther Hammerhans are metaphorically connected by a dark, deep depression in 1964 London and at Chartwell, the principal adult home of the former prime minister and his adoring wife, Clementine.

Shy, reclusive Esther works in the paneled reading rooms of the House of Commons Library. For long weeks, her life has drifted like a ghost; indeed, much of her past has been characterized by slow, lonely monotony. When she decides to bolster her spirits by renting out a room, she doesnít expect to be plagued by the wooly, carnivorous presence of a creature called Mr. Chartwell who breathes heat as he knocks on her door late one night, asking for shelter.

Warm, dark and covered in fur, Mr. Chartwell insists that her husbandís tiny box study will now be his luxury bedroom. He makes himself at home in a black bonfire of massive limbs, presenting himself as clumsy and self-conscious, but he also harbors a strangely malevolent attitude which leads Esther to cave under the emotional weight of his presence. He ransacks her "forlorn routine" and throws his weight around her house, ďa tonic of acid vibrancy and nervesĒ in Esther's life.

Winston, safely ensconced in Chartwell, Kent, thinks of time folding as he wishes to escape the clutches of Black Pat. Churchill has more than fulfilled his destiny as Englandís great savior, but as the prime minister prepares to be judged for a lifetime's hard work in front of Parliament and the press, he realizes that he hasnít fully contemplated his prospects for retirement. Dark forces surround him, Black Pat perfectly positioned to strike like ďa black hole in the window" as he blocks out Churchill's light, chatting to him in his low and horrible voice.

Depression silently awaits, and Churchill canít seem to shake him off. Neither can Esther, who finds it difficult to deal with Mr. Chartwellís suspicions, insinuations, perpetual sloppy habits and bad behavior. Not even Beth, Estherís glamorous work colleague, and Beth's husband, Big Oliver, can prevent their friend from focusing on thoughts of her husband, Michael, as Esther endeavors to ďtunnel through the rubble burial of the past two years,Ē Mr. Chartwell constantly at her side and following her every move.

Soon enough the passage of events confounds even the best-laid plans. When Esther is assigned the job of assisting Churchill in preparing his farewell speech to Parliament, only by using the companionship of each other can both library clerk and Prime Minister find a way to rise above and perhaps conquer the ubiquitous manipulations of Black Pat and Mr. Chartwell.

Her pages filled with enchanting turns of phrase, Hunt reveals Churchill and Esther's tortured states of mind, capturing their internal struggles and the secrets that each uses to shore up their respective versions of sorrow and loss. Although Huntís prose is a little too breezy for her subject matter, her writing is always skillful as she threads her chapters with love and humor, proffering a uniquely visual portrait of depression in all its painful forms.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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