Magazine article The Spectator

Journeys and Strangers

Magazine article The Spectator

Journeys and Strangers

Article excerpt

Mr Chartwell

by Rebecca Hunt

Fig Tree, £12.99, pp. 224,

ISBN 9781905490691

The Lost Kings

by Bruno Hare

Simon & Schuster, £12.99, pp. 432,

ISBN 978184737925

The World Beneath

by Cate Kennedy

Atlantic Books, £12.99, pp. 235,

ISBN 9781843546412

It has been said that the world of storytelling contains two fundamental plots - a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. Here we have two journeys, and one unexpected visitor, from three debut novelists who show great promise.

In the first, the stranger arriving in town is the eponymous Mr Chartwell, the large and 'strikingly hideous' black dog that is the embodiment of Winston Churchill's depression, who turns up on the doorstep of Esther Hammerhans one morning in July 1964. Esther, a library clerk in the House of Commons, has advertised a room to let, and Mr Chartwell is the sole respondent.

He is in the area for work, he tells Esther;

he has clients nearby. One of those clients we know to be the 89-year-old Winston Churchill, who is preparing to retire from parliament, and who is desperate for a little respite from Mr Chartwell's attentions.

When Esther is asked to act as secretary and take dictation of Churchill's resignation speech, the role of 'Black Pat' in their respective lives comes into focus.

This is not a complex narrative; it is an exploration of the depression that Black Pat embodies. But Rebecca Hunt portrays the murky fug with a psychological astuteness which gives the book a satisfying depth. Her prose is beautifully visual - the dog grins 'filthily' and a kettle 'stopped its screaming and threw out hysterical clouds of steam'.

It comes as no surprise to learn that she is also a painter.

The Lost Kings sets out its stall right from the start: its subtitle is 'A stirring tale of adventure and derring-do set on the far frontiers of Empire'. In the opening scene, a rough-looking man (who is swiftly revealed to be a dastardly murderer) comes flying into the shop of the watchmaker Cyril King, demanding help in tracing the origins of the strange looking watch he is clutching, before promptly dropping dead. The story unfolds through excerpts from Cyril's notebooks (he is an explorer manque) and letters to him from the famous traveller Sir Paul Lindley-Small. …

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