Henry Dunbar has lead his whole life a successful businessman whose orders are carried out immediately and who is not only in charge but in control. But now he finds himself in a sanatorium somewhere in the British countryside, locked away and sedated by his doctors. His eldest daughters Abby and Megan and the family doctor Bob have complotted against him to take over the Dunbar imperium. With his roommate Dunbar decides to flee and to get his life back. His youngest daughter Florence has also gotten wind of the other daughters’ doings and is rushing for help. While the old man is roaming the unknown country in a fierce storm, the sisters and their accomplices are plotting how to get out of the mess best, each one is fighting the others with insidious plans and tricks. But the old man is stronger than anyone would have thought.
“Dunbar” is part of the Shakespeare Hogarth project in which famous authors have transferred the bard’s stories into our modern time in honour of the 400th anniversary of his death. One of the four major tragedies provides the basis for this modern madness: King Lear.
Edward St Aubyn clearly is one of the most gifted authors of our time. He masterly managed to create a gripping story in which the core conflict of Shakespeare’s play can clearly be seen, but which speaks for itself and is a great pleasure to read from the very first to the last page. First of all, the setting. Transferring the king’s household to a media mogul’s family is absolutely adequate for today, it’s not only about power, but much more about the stock market and money. That’s what drives many people nowadays and for which they are willing to sell their own grandmother – or their father as it is here.
Strongest are the characters in the novel. The stubborn old head of the family who cannot be broken by medication and a remote clinic, who develops superhuman survival forces if needed but who finally finds the wisdom of the elderly and can see when in his life he was wrong – that’s one side of the story. Yet, I had a lot more fun with the beastly sisters Abby and Megan, they both are that sly and cunning – it was just a great fun to read (“Oh, God, it was so unfair! That selfish old man was spoiling everything”, Megan complains about her father when she learns that he has fled and her carefully designed plot is about to crumble down). Admittedly, I did not feel too much compassion for their Victim Dr. Bob, who, he himself, also was not the philantropic doctor whom you wish for but much more a turncoat seeking for his own benefit.
A lively family vendetta which completely gets out of control perfectly framed by Edward St Aubyn’s gifted writing. Great dialogues alternate with extraordinary inner monologues – for me so far one of the best works of the Hogarth Shakespeare series.