September 6th, 2011


What are editors paid for?

There have been rave reviews of Rebecca Hunt’s book Mr Chartwell. It’s certainly based on a very original idea. Winston Churchill is eighty nine and about to retire at last from the House of Commons. He is visited by his ‘black dog’, the name he gave to his bouts of depression. Here’s the trick: in this book the dog is a real one, enormous and with all a dog’s unpleasant habits and none of its nice ones. The dog has other victims. Calling himself ‘Mr Chartwell’, he rents a room in the home of Esther, a widowed clerk in the House of Commons Library. Esther finds living with him uncomfortable yet somehow inevitable and she realises that ‘Black Pat’ was a frequent visitor to her husband Michael. The big question is who will win the battle; Esther, who must find the courage to make him leave, or Black Pat, who wants to stay with her forever. As I said, a very original idea but oh dear, I nearly didn’t get past page one. Here’s why.

Churchill prepared himself for the day ahead, his mind putting out analytical fingers …

A view of the Weald of Kent stretched beyond the windows, lying under an animal skin of mist.

Although fully awake, Churchill’s eyes remained closed.

It’s that last, terrible sentence which nearly had me flinging the book across the room (it was a library book, so I desisted). The writing is unnecessarily complicated by the overuse of similes and synonyms and I could have done without so many carefully researched pointers to the year, 1964. Oh, and the Brownie salute is made with two fingers, not three; easy enough to check, surely? I’m appalled that a book with so many faults can be so highly praised and I blame the editors.