Genre: Adult Literary Fiction
Pub. Date: Oct. 3, 2017
Publisher: Crown Publishing
This is my third Hogarth Press novel. Hogarth Press was founded in 1917 by Virginia and Leonard Woolf. In recent years Hogarth Press launched the Hogarth Shakespeare project in which much admired novelists are retelling the Bard’s stories in contemporary times. “Dunbar” is the re-write of “King Lear” by Edward St. Aubyn. I confess, before this novel I have never heard of Aubyn, though he is the author of eight novels and in 2006 was nominated for the Booker Prize for “Mother’s Milk.” Other than “Vinegar Girl,” which is based on “The Taming of the Shrew,” I have not read any other of Shakespeare’s plays. I did see the 1983 film version of “King Lear” with Laurence Olivier. And like most, I am aware that the play is about an aging King who invites disaster when he steps down giving his power to his two corrupt daughters while rejecting his third, loving and honest daughter. In other words, they were the original dysfunctional family.
What’s the modern version of a 16th-century kingdom? Why, a corporate empire, of course with CEO Henry Dunbar (Lear) written as a Rupert Murdoch-like multi-billionaire. In “Dunbar,” the evil daughters/sisters are plotting a hostile takeover of the company, and have their sedated dad placed in a sanatorium while they prepare for the takeover. In the interim, the youngest, loving daughter, who has been treated unfairly by her dad, is suspicious of her elder sisters and trying to uncover her dad’s whereabouts. She alone is worried about her father. We first meet Dunbar while he is in the sanitarium, where his fellow inmate, a former comedian, is plotting their escape. The comedian can only speak when he is doing exaggerated voice imitations of others. His mania is exhausting to read. I personally found the similarities between the novel’s comedian and Robin Williams way too close for comfort. I am not sure if that is the author’s intent, but that is how I read the character. The two do escape. Now the daughters, both good and bad, are in hot pursuit of finding their father first.
Moral of the story; one cannot have the luxuries of living like a king without the responsibilities. The parallels of the famous play and this novel are excellently drawn. The most powerful part of “Dunbar” is his emotional awakening and reconciliation with his youngest daughter. So when tragedy hits, and she dies, I found myself feeling for her father. That felt real. As did the Dunbar character, even though his drugged brain read like an acid trip, which was hard to keep up with. But the good, ever-suffering youngest daughter is so saccharine that she got on my nerves. Everyone has at least one mean bone in their body. The other two sadistic, nymphomaniac daughters, who have a taste for sexual perversion and their henchmen, are also too one-sided to be believed. These two characters struck me as comic villains. For some reason, I see them as an R rated “Cruella De Vil” from the Disney movie, “101 Dalmatians.” The author has keen wit, using black humor throughout the story. There are some good laughs for a tragedy. Still, I did not feel that “Dunbar” could stand as a novel in its own right. If I didn’t know I was reading a re-telling of one of the Bard’s plays I would not have finished the book. For these reasons, I am a bit disappointed in this latest Hogarth Press. Still, the author is clearly talented and I admire his courage to take on Shakespeare. I recommend you read this one only if you are addicted to this Shakespeare project.
This is an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) book. I received this novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
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