The latest book that this pedometer geek reader read was Dunbar, which was received through Blogging for Books. It is a literary novel written by Edward St. Aubyn, who has also written several other novels including Never Mind. This is the first novel of his that this reader has read, but it may not be the last. This is the extended review.
by Edward St. Aubyn
Published by Hogarth, 2017
an imprint of Crown Publishing Group
a division of Penguin Random House, LLC
“They all want to play Hamlet” is a line from a play, “The World of Carl Sandburg” by Norman Corwin. People often read “Hamlet”, too, as part of their education, but that is not true for Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” When friends and family were queried, this reader could not find one person who had ever read the play, and only one person who had ever seen the play. She told me she had difficulty with the flowery language, making the understanding of the play itself difficult. Even asking online friends, this reader could only find a handful of those who indicated they had read “King Lear.”
In truth, this reader has never read “King Lear” either so that having the opportunity of reading the novel adaptation, Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn, was both a pleasure as well as a daunting undertaking as literary fiction is not a favorite genre.
This modern day retelling of the play is in the Hogarth Shakespeare series: a series of commissioned novels written by current, successful (in their own right) authors. This is the first of these this reader has read, but during the reading, it sent this reader back to commentaries to further understand the story of King Lear; however, it is not necessary to do this to recognize the power of this tale.
Now, about the novel. In a nutshell, Henry Dunbar, the leader of a global media company called the Dunbar Trust, has decided to nominally withdraw from holding the reins of his company and give over control to his three daughters, Abigail, Megan, and Florence, with the help of his best friend and attorney, Wilson. Nominally, that is, as he still retains some control.
Yet, Florence, his favorite daughter, doesn’t want to be involved with the company and is disowned for her honesty, and his other two scheming daughters want Dunbar out and convince all that he is crazy, secretly lock him away in a sanatorium, and set out to take over the company completely. The machinations of these two and his own physician, who joins forces with them, are particularly evil.
Florence only wants what is best for her father, fears for his safety, and is actively looking for him despite her older sisters’ actions of hiding him away.
Two factions emerge, those who are trying to destroy Dunbar and those who genuinely want what is best for the man (and his company). In the meantime, Henry and his friend from the sanatorium escape. This causes major upheavals for Dunbar as he nearly goes crazy and dies on the snow-covered, windy, slippery slopes as each faction races to intercept him. Will Florence and those helping her find him first, or will Abigail, Megan, and their entourage be there first, thus hushing him up permanently?
Like the play itself, this story is full of avarice, power, money, double-crosses, and betrayals, but it is also about reconciliation, redemption, and forgiveness. The whole range of the human condition is explored, especially in the character of Henry Dunbar. In the end, just as it appears that Dunbar’s humanity is restored, it becomes tragic with an ending that brought tears to this reader’s eyes.
Overall, this novel has all the complexity of Shakespeare’s play in a more understandable format. Set in modern times, it shows the machinations of a corporate takeover and what lengths some people are willing to go through to accomplish the feat, including murder. The characters are complex, and Dunbar in particular shows the most complexity and change throughout as he begins to doubt his own sanity.
Be forewarned: the novel has adult themes including sexual situations and drug use.
Am I glad I read it? Yes. Would I have purposely chosen this book to read? Probably not; however, the story drew me in and kept me in thrall until the very end. I think that is the power of this tale of a man and his dysfunctional, scheming family.