Dunbar (Hogarth Shakespeare)
By Edward St. Aubyn
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.
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.
Enjoyed with a cup of English Breakfast or two..
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 News, Some Hopeand On the Edge. He lives in London and France.