Friday, August 1, 2008

The Dead Fathers Club -- Matt Haig

Chapter One: The First Time I Saw Dad After He Died

Pretty excellent hook, right?

As his father is the one being mourned, eleven-year-old Philip Noble is mightily surprised when the man himself appears at the gathering after the funeral. Philip seems to be the only one who can see and hear his father, which puts him in a very difficult situation: especially after his father informs him that not only did his brother, Philip's uncle, murder him, but also that it is up to Philip to avenge the murder.

Yep. The plot sounds familiar for a reason -- The Dead Fathers Club is Hamlet.
Set in a pub.

Philip tells the story, and readers will either like his voice a lot or dislike it intensely -- the story comes out in a big gust (though with short chapters), as he forgoes the use of apostrophes, quotation marks and commas. Personally, I enjoyed it -- I loved the way he described things ("His eyes had mouth locks in them so I couldnt speak."), though I did find that I had to go back and re-read bits occasionally -- it's very easy to lose the thread of what he's saying if you look away for even a moment.

At first, the book mirrors Hamlet pretty closely, but by the end, there will be some major surprises for even the most well-read Shakespeare scholars. While part of the fun, for me, was in spotting the parallels (Ross and Gary were, of course, a riot, and I liked Leah more than I've ever liked Ophelia), it isn't at all necessary to know the play to enjoy the book. It's an excellent story in its own right, about a grieving boy stuck an impossible situation.

I did find it interesting that the book jacket and some of the reviews I've read refer to this book as being 'hilarious'. While parts of it were very funny, I wouldn't have described it as even 'darkly hilarious'. It's too painful for that, because of Philip's grief, because of his confusion and indecision about what his father is demanding of him, because of his worry that maybe he's completely lost it and this is all in his head, and (not least of all) because of the regular trials of being eleven.

I'd recommend it to those who enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, as well as, of course, those who enjoy fractured Shakespeare stories like Scotland PA. Here's a taste from the very beginning, the first conversation between Philip and his father -- if you like this, pick up a copy:

He nodded to the door and so I shut it and then he said Dont be
I said Im not.
His voice sounded the same but different like he was standing far
away but I could hear him more clearly than ever. That doesnt make sense
but that is how he sounded.
And the second thing he said was Im sorry.
I said For what?
He said For everything.
And when he said it I thought he was talking about the past when he was
alive but now I am not sure.

(cross-posted at Bookshelves of Doom)


Heather J. said...

Thanks for posting that excerpt. I was all ready to hunt for this book until I saw that excerpt. I guess I'm just a stickler for punctuation b/c that totally turned me off. Ugh. And it sounded SO GOOD too.

Leila the Great said...

Yeah, I thought it would be good for people to know what they were getting into -- I knew it would either be a draw or a total turn-off!

Mary Burkey said...

Terrific title - and one of the best audiobooks I've ever heard! The tour-de-force narration by 11-year-old Andrew Dennis is phenomenal. If you have been looking for an audiobook that will convince you that the medium is really literature, give this a try:

Mary Burkey

Little Willow said...

Hamlet is my favorite Shakespearian tragedy. I, like commenter, abhor punctuation 'purposeful mistakes.' Aside from that, though, it sounds interesting.

Lenore said...

Just bought this the other day without knowing a thing about it. Now I think the punctuation thing might bother me,,,

david elzey said...

yeah, love hamlet, have problems with that excerpt that don't have anything to do with punctuation, and am dying to find an adaptation that will remove the taste of joker from my mouth. hmm.