Posts Tagged ‘Winston Churchill’

On his 100th birthday, Allan Karlsson decides to escape from the old people’s home in Sweden where he lives, and climbs out of the window.  When the disappearance is discovered, a huge search is launched, with everybody wondering what has happened to the centenarian.  The truth is stranger than they could possibly imagine.

As Allan gets involved with, amongst others, a lifelong petty crook, a foul mouthed woman, and an elephant(!), he finds himself accidentally becoming rich, and evading gangsters; he takes all this in his stride – as, it turns out, he has been doing his whole life.

The chapters in this book alternate between 2005, when Allan makes the aforementioned bid for freedom, and his life prior to ending up in the old people’s home.  And what a life it’s been!  It turns out that Allan has met several world leaders (including Stalin, Chairman Mao, Churchill, and three American Presidents), and has also had a huge influence on world events.  Throughout it all, he has spoken his mind, kept his temper, and enjoyed a glass or two of Vodka whenever he can.

I wasn’t sure about this book at first.  The premise is pretty ridiculous, and there was also a lot of repetitive phrases used throughout, which did grate a bit at times.  However, it does have a certain kind of charm which won me over, at least enough to keep me listening, (I had the audiobook), because I did want to know what happened.

Allan was in turn frustrating and endearing.  In the end, I had to admire his attitude to life; he was pragmatic, but also able to use his brain to get him out of a sticky situation – a skill which came in handy on more than one occasion.  His companions weren’t as well depicted, but then, it’s not really their story.

The historical parts were interesting – although Allan’s part in events were entirely fictitious, the situations described, such as the Cold War, and Chinese Communist Revolution, were very real, and I think this book would be entertaining for 20th century history buffs.

Overall, I enjoyed the story – maybe not enough to read another book by the same author, but enough to recommend it to fans of quirky comedy.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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In 1964, 89 year old Winston Churchill wakes up to find a looming presence in his room.  It is the depression from which he has suffered throughout his life, which he famously called the “black dog.”  Across town, Esther Hammerhans opens her front door to find a huge black dog standing outside, wanting to rent her spare room.  The black dog introduces himself as Mr Chartwell, and later comes to be known as Black Pat.  Esther has no idea who or what he is, or why he has sought her out.  So will she find out before she falls under his diabolical spell?

This is such an unusual novel that I find it very difficult to review.  The premise sounds completely absurd – to make the black dog of depression into an actual black dog, who can talk and interact with those whose life he infiltrates – and does not sound as though it should work.  However, as a plot device it works incredibly well, showing how depression can creep up on someone insiduously, how it can affect all areas of life, and how it can be strangely attractive.

The narrative is in the third person, and takes place over a few days during which Churchill retires completely from politics.  The story switches from Churchill to Esther, who do not know each other, and are unaware that they have a mutual companion.  I thought the writing was terrific – descriptive, but without any unnecessary words, subtle, and at times very funny.  However, the humour had a distinct sting in the tail.

Esther is a beautifully drawn character, who was easy to believe in, and Churchill was also described brilliantly (as was his wife, Clementine), and facts from his real life were woven into the story.  Black Pat hovers over every scene ominously and is variously shown as tender, spiteful, witty, selfish, cynical and inviting.  But while he can sometimes be quite likeable (at least in the form which he takes in this story), the reader is never allowed to forget exactly who he is and what he represents.

I’m not sure that my review has done this book justice.  However, I will say that it was one of the most original stories I’ve read in a long time, and despite the unusual premise, it worked on every level for me.  This is Rebecca Hunt’s debut novel – I certainly hope that she will write more!

(I would like to thank British Bookshops & Stationers for sending me a review copy of this book.  British Bookshop & Stationers’ website can be found here.)

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