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.