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Mr. Chartwell

Cover of Mr. Chartwell

Mr. Chartwell

A Novel
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July 1964. Chartwell House, Kent: Winston Churchill wakes at dawn. There's a dark, mute "presence" in the room that focuses on him with rapt concentration.

It's Mr. Chartwell.

Soon after, in London, Esther Hammerhans, a librarian at the House of Commons, goes to answer the door to her new lodger. Through the glass she sees a vast silhouette the size of a mattress.

It's Mr. Chartwell.

Charismatic, dangerously seductive, Mr. Chartwell unites the eminent statesman at the end of his career and the vulnerable young woman. But can they withstand Mr. Chartwell's strange, powerful charms and his stranglehold on their lives? Can they even explain who or what he is and why he has come to visit?

In this utterly original, moving, funny, and exuberant novel, Rebecca Hunt explores how two unlikely lives collide as Mr. Chartwell's motives are revealed to be far darker and deeper than they at first seem.

From the Hardcover edition.

July 1964. Chartwell House, Kent: Winston Churchill wakes at dawn. There's a dark, mute "presence" in the room that focuses on him with rapt concentration.

It's Mr. Chartwell.

Soon after, in London, Esther Hammerhans, a librarian at the House of Commons, goes to answer the door to her new lodger. Through the glass she sees a vast silhouette the size of a mattress.

It's Mr. Chartwell.

Charismatic, dangerously seductive, Mr. Chartwell unites the eminent statesman at the end of his career and the vulnerable young woman. But can they withstand Mr. Chartwell's strange, powerful charms and his stranglehold on their lives? Can they even explain who or what he is and why he has come to visit?

In this utterly original, moving, funny, and exuberant novel, Rebecca Hunt explores how two unlikely lives collide as Mr. Chartwell's motives are revealed to be far darker and deeper than they at first seem.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    chapter 1

    5.30 a.m.

    Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill's mouth was pursed as if he had a slice of lemon hidden in there. Now aged eighty-nine, he often woke early. Grey dawn appeared in a crack between the curtains, amassing the strength to invade. Churchill prepared himself for the day ahead, his mind putting out analytical fingers and then coming at the day in a fist, ready for it.

    A view of the Weald of Kent stretched beyond the window, lying under an animal skin of mist. Bordered to the west by Crockham Hill and to the east by Toys Hill, Churchill's red-brick house sat in a shallow coomb, enclosed by a horseshoe of ancient forest that opened in a long, green horizon to the south.

    Although he was fully awake, Churchill's eyes remained closed. On his back, the bedcovers pulled and folded at his waist, he lay with his arms alongside the quilted log of his body. On the other side of the house, Clementine lay sleeping in her four-poster bed. He thought of his wife, wishing to be with her.

    But Churchill wasn't alone in his bedroom; something else in the dark, a mute bulk in the corner, a massive thing, was watching him with tortured concentration.

    Churchill was aware of its presence. He didn't need to see or hear it to know it was there; he had more of a sense, an instinctual certainty when it appeared. Its eyes pressed on him hotly, imploring him to wake up. It willed him to move. After hours of waiting it ached with the desire to explode from the corner and shake him.

    Churchill spoke in a barely audible whisper, not that it mattered--he knew the thing would be listening.

    "Bugger off."

    There was a long silence as the thing scrabbled to compose itself. Churchill could feel it grinning filthily in the blackness. It said with unsuppressed relish, "No."

    chapter 2

    8.30 a.m.

    In a terraced house in Battersea, Esther Hammerhans came tearing down the stairs with one arm through a cardigan sleeve, the rest flapping at her legs, and turned off the hob. The kettle stopped its screaming, throwing out hysterical clouds of steam. Esther found the teapot and filled it with hot water, some spilling over the work surface. The tea leaves had been forgotten, something she discovered five minutes later, after a wild campaign with the washing up. "Idiots!" she cursed the tea leaves, beating them into the water with a spoon.

    Then she put on the entire cardigan. This seemed a good step, a positive move. A moment passed where she calmed herself; it was important to look calm. Mr. Chartwell would ar- rive at any minute; it was important that the first impression be a good one. She admired the yellow cabinet doors and drawers which she had scrubbed earlier, the walls painted a paler yellow and lit with a fluorescent tube on the ceiling. The dark-orange tiled floor had been mopped, pots of spices and dried herbs arranged neatly on wiped white-gloss shelves. The blue Formica-topped kitchen table was arranged with a vase of flowers, a stainless-steel candlestick there for show as if she used it every day. Sugar cubes were stacked into the only small bowl without chips. A tasteless bowl designed to resemble a cockerel; Esther had hidden the cockerel-head lid in a drawer.

    Esther went to the mirror hung near the window and examined herself, seeing a wispy, long-haired person with a delicate underbite. She had always been slim, slimmer now and a bit bare with it. The mirror returned a smile which expressed fatigue, a varnish of melancholy painted behind the features. The general package, Esther decided, would not benefit from further examination.

    The boxroom she wanted to rent didn't have many things but...

About the Author-
  • Rebecca Hunt graduated from Central Saint Martins College with a degree in fine art. She lives and works in London. Mr. Chartwell is her first novel.

Reviews-
  • The Daily Mail "[A] marvellously original, tender and funny debut novel . . . Rebecca Hunt proves herself to be a gifted writer who has no need of fictional realism to deliver profound truths."
  • The Daily Telegraph (London) "Extraordinary . . . Owing to Hunt's robust, intelligent style and the ingenuity and compassion with which she deals with her story, [Mr. Chartwell] is very good indeed."
  • Metro "Moving . . . Hunt treats her heavy themes with a light, intelligent touch and writes with a distinctive blend of humour, restraint and insight."
  • Stylist "Utterly gripping . . . truly innovative . . . beautifully written . . . One of those novels which knock you sideways with the brilliance of the idea behind it."
  • Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, in Entertainment Weekly "A clever, entertaining, and deliciously literary novel that literally personifies Winston Churchill's "black dog" of melancholy. It is dark comedy at its finest."
  • Library Journal (starred review) "Please, willingly suspend disbelief and allow Hunt's vivid imagination to take you on this exuberant funhouse ride through a week in the lives of Esther, Winston, two matchmakers, the easygoing love interest, and the buttoned-up library director at the House of Commons. VERDICT: Already published in Hunt's home country, Great Britain, this debut novel cleverly combines historical detail, a marvelously subtle sense of humor, and the wit of J.K. Rowling to give readers a quirky assortment of characters they can root for with abandon."
  • Scotsman "A real joy to read: funny, clever and original. A darkly comic debut that hits all the right notes."
  • Sunday Times "Hunt's concept is intriguing, and she paints a vivid picture of the symptoms of depression."
  • Sunday Express "Offers a powerful evocation of depression. Brilliantly original and thought-provoking. She tackles a serious topic with humour and intelligence and marks herself out as one to watch."
  • Observer "A remarkable debut. These are some of the best evocations of depression you'll read."
  • - The Bookseller "Powerful and original. Rebecca Hunt is a name to watch."
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