Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig

Between The Royal We - a fictionalized version of Prince William and Kate Middleton's love story - and Eligible - a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice - the books I have been reading lately largely rely on some form of source material. The same can be said of Matt Haig's The Dead Fathers Club, which draws heavily on Hamlet. 

Philip Noble's father has recently died in a car accident, although his family can't comprehend how he crashed into a bridge in the middle of the day. Philip's father, however, sets the record straight when he comes back as a ghost and tells his son that his brother - Philip's uncle - tampered with the brakes, causing the accident. His father entreaties Philip to kill his Uncle Alan and avenge his death in a timely fashion. Otherwise, Philip's father is going to be taken over by the Terrors, a horrifying prospect. 

For eleven-year-old Philip, this is a lot to take in. 

Uncle Alan moves in on his brother's abdicated territory with a disturbing speed, moving into the house, bribing Philip with a PlayStation, and proposing to his mom in a very short time frame. Philip's panic and sense of responsibility to his father is heightened by his childish and frank narration, which, in part, is  conveyed through stream-of-consciousness and a sense of dissociation. It also very much reflects its time of publication, especially evident in the pop culture that Philip has to draw on. For example, when the ghost of his dad tries to convince Philip to steal a van and drive home from his overnight school field trip: "Dads Ghost looked at me with the most serious face I had ever seen like Norman Osborn in the first Spiderman when he has the nerve gas before he becomes the Green Goblin and he said By his phone were some keys." This narration has been compared in other reviews to that of protagonist Christopher in Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. 

The more modern the retelling of a canonical or classical story is, the more likely it is to replace the previous version that I've read. For example, I remember that when I read Curtis Sittenfeld's Eligible, I compared her version of the characters not to those written by Jane Austen, but instead as they appear in the Bollywood-style movie adaptation of the novel in Bride and Prejudice. Now, Sittenfeld's twenty-first century version - complete with a reality show ending - has usurped that version. Similarly, Haig's version is now much more relevant and memorable, and Uncle Alan is much more recognizable than the type introduced by Hamlet's uncle Claudius. I enjoyed Haig's novel immensely, especially the style he uses to craft Philip's distinct voice. 

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