Archive for November, 2011

Keep Buggering On

I can see how our November book, Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt, might not be to everyones taste. A first novel about depression which stars a big black talking dog and isn’t afraid to take a metaphor and stretch it to (almost) breaking point. As many of you admitted, the omens did not seem good.

So it’s testament to Rebecca Hunt’s writing that she manages to not only pull this off, but to do it with such originality, wit and humanity that the WHOLE BOOK GROUP  adored it. So much so that  I fear I’m not going to even begin to do our discussion justice or manage to pick up on the many things that people loved in this blog. This is my attempt:

  • The brilliant characterisation of depression as a real, intensely physical thing, with a weight and solidity that those of us who have experience of the illness recognised as accurate. Ditto for the depiction of depression as so logical, as something with a purpose. We were impressed with the complexity of the relationship that both Esther and Churchill had with Mr Chartwell, not just loathing him but looking to him with familiarity, for comfort and support. These nuances made the relationships between the characters and Mr Chartwell “real” and hints at the seductive nature of depression. We thought it a real achievement that something that is so difficult to describe was articulate so precisely.
  • The depiction of Churchill, particularly his relationship with Clementine, which lots of people picked out as being extremely moving. An interesting take on a “national hero”.
  • Rebecca Hunt’s quirky relish of language which marks her out as a original and exciting voice. How many other authors would describe light streaming in the window as the same shape as a “pair of tennis shorts”?

Discussion about the book spiraled into thoughts on first novels, mental illness as “the last taboo”, books as therapy and our pretty much universal suspicion of dogs. It also really astonished me (in a good way!) how open and honest people were willing to be in bringing personal experience to the book, which really enriched our chat. A big thanks for that- not an easy thing to discuss by any means.

Also, for fact fans, Churchill did die in 1965. His dad did have syphilis and his daughter did commit suicide.

And for those of you who wondered about Hunt’s personal experience of depressions, I found this interview.

And onto December. Can the love last another month….?

About the group

Sunderland Book Group meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 6pm at Holmeside Coffee in Sunderland.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

November 2011