Sunday, October 15, 2006

Book-A-Day #88 (10/13): The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig

I read this for work; it doesn't publish until February. So I'll be brief.

Philip Noble is eleven; his father (the proprietor of the Castle and Falcon pub) has just died in a car crash, and his uncle is getting awfully chummy with Philip's mom. Then Philip's father's ghost appears, telling his son that he was murdered -- and that his son must revenge him.

Sound familiar yet?

There are a lot of parallels to Hamlet here, and they're worked in brilliantly; several times a plot twist caught me by surprise, until I realized how exactly Hamlet it was.

More interesting, actually, is Philips's voice -- this novel is all told in first person, and it's the most idiosyncratic and authentic British kid voice I've come across since Adrian Mole. (Though Dead Fathers Club isn't really funny -- the publisher claims it is on the back of the galley I have, but no one who's read it at my company agrees with that.) The publisher also compares this to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is accurate; Philip is also trying to figure out what's going on around him without necessarily understanding what's really going on.

This is a very impressive novel; it's being published as mainstream (and the Hamlet parallels throw it solidly into the literary-novel category rather than genre fantasy), but anyone with a passing familiarity with the plot of Hamlet could read it with great appreciation. Whatever you call it, it will be one of the major fantasy novels of 2007; it's that good.


Anonymous said...

sounds interesting. What is the target audience? Adult or younger?


Andrew Wheeler said...

It's being published as an adult novel.

Anonymous said...

I'm not clear from your post--will SFBC be publishing it? Cause I'll wait until then if so. If not, add it to the list of things to get ahold of in other places.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Diana: It's too early to say for sure, but one of the SFBC's sister clubs is looking at it (which is why they asked me to read it).

Anonymous said...

Well, I've put it on my list of books to get hold of. Just as soon as I finish revisions for my editor, of course (just in case she's reading . . . )

Anonymous said...

Hi I agree it's not funny as billed, although there are touching elements of humour in it. I've written a review of the book which you may like to read - Dead Father’s Club – Matt Haig. Random House paperback £11.99

Highly original in its presentation, yet with marked comparison to Hamlet, this yarn speaks to us all through the mind of an eleven year old boy and his dead father’s ghost. As alarming as that sounds, it’s surprisingly easy to accept. Like in Shakespeare’s tale, the lad, Philip Noble, learns that his Dad didn’t die but was murdered. Dad’s Ghost, as Philip calls him, reveals this information and his son is given the task of seeking retribution against the killer, his Dad’s own brother, Uncle Alan.

Home for Philip is a public house, somewhat squalid and sordid with dodgy friends and acquaintances dropping by. Philip struggles with his grief as one might imagine a young boy would but added to his misery is his mother’s increasing reliance on the murderer himself. Uncle Alan moves in to the family home, assuming the paternal role, inciting a bubbling fury inside Phillip whose loyalty is to his father.

Running through the book is the presence of Dad’s Ghost who is stuck in the hapless hell of ‘the terrors’ – a halfway existence of purgatorial pain – .until revenge against Uncle Alan, his killer, can be realised. Phillip is chosen to secure this freedom for his Dad and so ensues endless plans for a tit-for-tat murder plot which sees Philip driven mad by the task

Like most burgeoning teens Phillip finds love in a girl, called Leah, distracting him from the mission and becoming part of the plot itself. Matt Haig’s descriptions of grief, as told from a young person’s perspective, are moving indeed with accurate portrayal of young, pubescent angst.

The language is told in stream of consciousness style, unpunctuated and sometimes rambling, intended no doubt to show the way a young boy’s mind works. Once you get used to this it does add something to the text, though at times is irritating in that it comes out more like a five year old’s lingo. Eleven year-olds, especially today, have more mature thoughts and actions than sometimes appear in this book.

That said, Dead Father’s Club is one of those must-reads of the year provoking thought and insightful peeks into the mind of the bereaved along with intriguing other-worldly goings-on set in a compelling tale.

Lynn Ede Freelance Journalist

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