When I realised what was going on in Rebecca Hunt’s devastatingly good debut – I mean, I knew a bit from the hype and the cover, but when the whole dastardly idea enveloped me a few pages in – the feeling was one of utter delight. A horrified kind of delight, maybe, but delight all the same. The central conceit is that Winston Churchill’s depression, which he referred to as ‘the black dog’, is a rather foul individual called Mr Chartwell (Black Pat to his pals) who comes to visit. In this way, depression is presented not only as an illness but also, beautifully, as a character. A homewrecker. A sadist. A surprise. The book begins with Churchill waking to find the dog sitting in a chair in his bedroom, ‘a dark, mute bulk, watching him with tortured concentration’. Tortured concentration! I read that line and thought, YES. I’m in. Hit me with everything else you’ve got. And Rebecca Hunt did.
I met Rebecca Hunt in a pub in London a few years ago. I was several sheets to the wind and fangirled at her for some time about how brilliant her book was. She took it like a champ. But despite my frothing, I meant every word. This is a lifer, a keeper; a book that sits, and stays, and charms, and changes. I am not the same person I was before I read it. If you haven’t already, I urge you to let it in.