Dunbar by Edward St Aubyn

Ok I haven’t been blogging much over the last few months but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. I just haven’t read anything rousing enough to blog about. This book however hit me like a veritable first glass of champagne; going straight to my head and heart and leaving me with a book hangover when I finished it 24 hours later.

Henry Dunbar is an ageing media magnate about to hand the reigns of his billion-dollar empire to his daughters. The problem is they want to rub him out so they can take it all for themselves.  They steal his phone and cards and imprison him in a remote nursing home.  Dunbar gets wind of the plan, and does a runner, setting off a pension-aged Bond-like chase involving a fleet of black range rovers and snow-covered hills.  Stuck out in the cold, Dunbar has to outwit everyone all over again but also has to face his demons and reflect on the many mistakes he made long ago.

I am generally suspicious of books that are described on the cover as funny but this one really is in a dry, caustic and powerfully reflective way. Like most good writing, it is sophisticated in its simplicity, heart-warming in its honestly and completely impossible to put down.  Just like that champagne.

Dunbar is written by English author Edward St Aubyn who is best known for his searing wit, sharp tongue and five Patrick Melrose novels; Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk and At Last. He has a signature ability to mix humour and hurt and has done so in spades in this novel.

Those canny readers amongst you may recognise parts of the premise from a play written by another bestselling writer – William Shakespeare. This is because the book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series where contemporary authors were asked to recreate some of Shakespeare’s most celebrated works.  Margaret Atwood did The Tempest and Tracy Chevalier did Othello (which I also read, loved and reviewed last year).  Dunbar is based on King Lear and is a study of power, money, loyalty and forgiveness.  In my opinion, all of this just adds another dimension to a novel that is a mini masterwork in its own right.

And that is my 2 cents worth.

As an aside, I first read about this book while travelling overseas in January. It hasn’t been as widely promoted in Australia so either borrow mine or get online.