Saturday, March 03, 2007

Third Day Book Report: "The Dead Fathers Club" by Matt Haig

I started out reading Matt Haig's The Dead Father's Club a little grumpily and skeptically. The back cover blurb advertised the book as one that will "appeal to fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time," the mystery told from the perspective of an autistic 15-year-old English boy. A book has to go some to bear comparison to The Curious Incident, a truly remarkable book, and I thought Dead Father's tried too hard to mimic in writing how an 11-year-old, not doing well in English composition, might write. I thought the elimination of apostrophes was gimmicky and didn't do much to advance the idea that this was being written from the perspective of an 11-year-old.

But the book grew on me as I got into it and by the end, while not quite ready to compare it with the incomparable Curious Incident, I was impressed. The book is based on Shakespeare's Hamlet and part of the fun is spotting the parallels, but it would be a good read even for someone who has never opened or heard of Hamlet.

The story is told from the perspective of Philip, a young boy in the English town of Newark, whose father was recently killed in an automobile accident. He is visited repeatedly by his father's ghost who tells him that the "accident" was set up by the father's brother, the boy's uncle Alan, a mechanic who cut the brake lines on the car, causing the father to lose control of it on a bridge. The father's ghost tells Philip that he has to kill Alan before the father's next birthday or his spirit would never be able to rest and he would always suffer the "Terrors."

Philip is Hamlet-like in his indecision about what to do, promising the ghost repeatedly that he will kill Alan, but then having second thoughts at the last minute. The ghost seems to have some powers of foretelling the future to Philip, but the powers, if they exist, are imperfect, at best, and some of what the ghost tells Philip is simply wrong. After getting Philip into one failed venture after another, the ghost finally gets Philip to make an assassination attempt with disastrous results. By the end, it is not clear at all that the ghost is the "good guy" (or is a spirit a "guy?") and Uncle Alan a bad guy.

Even though the reader may be very familiar with Hamlet, the ending is not predictable, either from Shakespeare's telling of the story or the structure of Haig's retelling of it. Previous readers of my book reports know that a frequent complaint of mine is that the ending does not hold up with the rest of the book. In this book, I'm happy to report, I found the ending was at least equal to, if not exceeded, the rest of the book.

I recommend this book, giving it four stars.


Patry Francis said...

I think you and I may be the only ones reading this month, which is okay. Consider it a very EXCLUSIVE book club. Anyway, I'm glad someone else read this one; it's the kind of novel you just want to talk about. Enjoyed your insightful review as always--and just may end up mimicking several key points when I post mine in the early hours of the March 4th. (This is starting to become a pattern...)

sarala said...

Amishlaw, thanks for your comment on my review. I'm anxious that it may have had the kind of effect that I feared but I did the best I could.
I'm over 1/2 done with Dead Father's so I should have a review up in a day or two. I don't want to read yours until I'm done.

Tarakuanyin said...

I wish now that I'd tried harder to read the book. I'm frustrated with the lack of time I've had lately. I really miss reading, and the book club has been a great motivator. Next month!