Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn

Dunbar (Hogarth Shakespeare)
By Edward St. Aubyn
Publisher: Hogarth
ISBN13: 9781781090381
Pages: 224
Genre: Literary Fiction


Henry Dunbar, the once all-powerful head of a global corporation, is not having a good day. In his dotage he handed over care of the family firm to his two eldest daughters, Abby and Megan. But relations quickly soured, leaving him doubting the wisdom of past decisions…

Now imprisoned in a care home in the Lake District with only a demented alcoholic comedian as company, Dunbar starts planning his escape. As he flees into the hills, his family is hot on his heels. But who will find him first, his beloved youngest daughter, Florence, or the tigresses Abby and Megan, so keen to divest him of his estate?

Edward St Aubyn is renowned for his masterwork, the five Melrose novels, which dissect with savage and beautiful precision the agonies of family life. His take on King Lear, Shakespeare’s most devastating family story, is an excoriating novel for and of our times – an examination of power, money and the value of forgiveness.

(New) Thoughts

Dunbar is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare collection. It is Edward St. Aubyn’s rendition of King Lear. Now, I admit that I do not recall having actually read King Lear, but I am familiar with the story.  I am not sure that having done so at any point would have altered the outcome of my experience, but I am making mental note to compare in the future (of course I have since picked up a copy).

I do not pick up Hogarth titles expecting to compares the author’s writing to that of Shakespeare. Instead, I look to see what creative vision or imagining the writer can supply. It is no easy feat and one that continues to allure me even though my streak with Hogarth titles is not really that impressive at this point.

Here we are introduced to Henry Dunbar, a wealthy business tycoon and widowed father to three woman. Having disinherited his youngest daughter Florence, he now finds that his two oldest, Abby and Megan, have plans of their own for his global corporation. In a scheme to gain full control, they have Dunbar committed to a home. With the help of a demented alcoholic, he manages to escape. What unfolds is a dangerous journey to forces him to face the wrong he has inflicted upon Florence and question his own sanity.

“Was this the triumph of self-knowledge: to suffer more lucidly?” 

I wanted to love Dunbar. And some of it I did. I went into this one very optimistic in-spite of its melancholic and bleak premise (it is based on a tragedy). I found myself instantly drawn to the dynamic cast that includes two shallow and manipulative women, one caring and devoted daughter, and a man who is reassessing and now doubting some of the biggest decisions of his life. Toss in a handful of eccentric characters such as Peter, the comedic drunk and there is a lot occurring within the mere 224 pages.

The character driven plot offers a steady read that exposes the reader to a multitude of emotions ranging from hopelessness and anger to love. There is an underlying theme of forgiveness in an ongoing power struggle that is of great value.  Unfortunately, there were many moments were the dialogue fell flat for myself and conversations failed to carry the significance of what was actually happening. The last half of the story began to feel diluted. Something was suddenly missing. When paths were crossed and confrontations began, I anticipated more. A great potential appeared to dissolve over the course of the story. I found myself left with inadequate emotion in the end that failed to deliver proper impact. There was no closure.

But do not be fooled, I still enjoyed my time with Dunbar. Just not as much as I had hoped. I imagine many fans of King Lear will find appreciation for Edward St. Aubyn’s retelling. He has certainly captured the terrible consequences of Dunbar’s decisions. While this was not my cup of tea, I would recommend fans of Shakespeare’s tragedy picking this up to formulate their own opinion. It still offers a healthy portion of food for thought.

*I would like to thank  Blogging for Books and the publisher for this copy. The above review is my own, unbiased opinion.

Untitled design Enjoyed with a cup of English Breakfast or two..


Purchase Links: Amazon.com Book Depository

Edward St. Aubyn

About the Author:

Born in 1960, Edward St Aubyn is the author of four highly praised novels, Never Mind (winner of the Betty Trask Award 1992), Bad NewsSome Hopeand On the Edge. He lives in London and France.


Happy Reading,

Danielle ❤

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41 thoughts on “Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn

  1. I don’t think I have read King Lear. I read the Hogarth Othello retelling, New Boy, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now that Baz has his cyber library card I’m going to check out some of the other Hogarths. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one. ☺

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are welcome! I do recommend trying this one. I am lookong forward to Macbeth as I read Nesbo was writing or did write that one. I have to look it up. I was not a fan of Hag-Seed, but I think the pacing is an issue for me. My tastes have changed so much haha. What works one day doesn’t the next and vice versa. Terrible mood reader.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Hi Danielle, we do have bookshops but most of them carry mainstream, popular titles and local books about politics and the like. I buy nearly all my books from Amazon, mostly as ebooks or audible books, because the postal delivery is so bad here it takes months to get the hard copies. Sometimes they never arrive. I like reading on my kindle or Ipad anyway. Our libraries are not well funded and generally still have the books from over 20 years ago so they are not really worthwhile for me. I buy between 10 and 15 books a month.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes. I am blessed to have access to such a wonderful library system. Since I began blogging I have come to realize that even more as I meet so many others who do not.

              Amazon is a life saver though. But too bad about the shipping. Although I favor ebooks at times as well. They are easier on my eyes and help when I have less use of my hands due to the muscular symptoms. 10 to 15 books a month is a nice haul 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

  2. King Lear is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. If you ever have a chance to see it live, do so. It’s incredibly powerful, and obviously, tragic. Much more moving in person.

    I’m sorry that the dialogue didn’t work for you and the second half sagged. I am always hesitant with retellings of my favorite works. It’s easy to stick too closely to the source material and ruin your own original work! I wonder if that happened here; there is a lot which happens in Act III of King Lear which probably doesn’t lend well to an evenly-paced novel. Have you read other Hogarth Shakespeare adaptions? If so, which would you recommend I start reading first?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The most recent I read was Hag-Seed by Atwood. I was not personally a fan, but I would probably say it is a great starting point. New Boy has also done well. I am beginning to think that Shakespeare retellings are just not my thing. There is certainly some talented writing being enlisted 🙂 It sounds like you might enjoy them more than myself. I do hear Nesbo is writing for Macbeth so I will attempt that I am sure haha.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Shakespeare is so complicated. I imagine that retellings must be incredibly challenging for both the author and the reader. There are a lot of complex character interactions in most of his plays. It seems like you need to know the content really well in order to pull it off accurately. And, for example, how do you adapt a scene where a man’s eyes are plucked out to something modern?! Terrifying.

        I haven’t read a Shakespeare retelling which isn’t Romeo and Juliet, but I have seen many film adaptions. To this day, Ten Things I Hate About You is one of my absolute favorites.

        I’ll definitely read MacBeth. And I am definitely intrigued by the retelling of The Taming of the Shrew; offensive in the max to feminists all over the world, I wonder how Vinegar Girl modernizes this?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ah Vinegar Girl. It has been on my list and I have read some stellar reviews, but I cannot seem to pull the trigger. Hopefully the mood will strike at some point. I find the whole prospect of adapting Shakespeare to be intimidating. I think I go into most attempts with a very open eye and certain amount of respect based on that alone 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Shakespeare is TOTALLY mood reading; particularly adaptions. I find that adaptions of classic literature (or in this case, plays) can be really challenging to read. They just require a lot of mental effort on my part and are therefore slow going. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them… but, they require mental focus I don’t always have.

            Hopefully we’ll both find the mental focus and mood to get to Vinegar Girl this year!

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, I have to be honest- the blurb and your review really got me interested in the title. It all sounds like an intriguing plot and I guess, the eccentric Peter is probably the selling point for me here! 😀
    I’ll have to keep this book in mind- even with the lacking dialogue in parts, I think I would want to read this one! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent review, Danielle. Is this the second book of all those Shakespeare retellings (first one being Hag-Seed) that you have read? I only had Hag-Seed on my TBR because of the author, and I still remember your review for it hahah Sorry to hear about the little disappointments you had for this one, but I am however glad that it was overall a better experience. I do now want to read MacBeth by Jo Nesbo though. Of all those retellings, Nesbo’s is definitely the one that intrigues me the most! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think there are like 3 other books in this “series” that came before Hagseed too. I have no clue if they are any good or if they are even interesting though 😂 And yaas!! Snowman!!! I have a couple of Nesbo books too, some I really hope to read in 2018! Hopefully we’ll enjoy his style 😏

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I have read them both and I would say start with the Martian for sure. The internal thoughts are much funnier, maybe it’s because that’s the way I think. Artemis is good too but didn’t quite get the comedy across as well. If you like the Martian then try Artemis next.


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