The Dead Fathers Club, Matt Haig
So, the premise is weird â€“ the events of Hamlet happen, in a fashion, to and around a British boy (one Philip Noble) circa the late 1990s. And the book, in my opinion, markets itself very badly, claiming to be â€œfunnyâ€ a few times on the back cover. Nope. Not funny.
At some point, for this book to be funny, it would have to be heartless, and a lot of its charm comes from the sympathy the author clearly has for Philip. He is, after all, in a terrible situation: though heâ€™s a good decade younger than Hamlet was, he faces the same set of problems. His father Brian dies, and far too soon afterward, his Uncle Alan starts moving in on Philipâ€™s mother.Â (His parents, by the way, own a pub called Castle and Falcon, and Brian wears a T-shirt that says â€œKing of the Castleâ€. Cute, huh?)Â Â 11-year-old Philip even has his own Ophelia, a girl from school named Leah.
Soon after his fatherâ€™s death Philip begins seeing â€œDads Ghostâ€ on a regular basis. The ghost tells him that he is now a member of the Dead Fathers Club and is experiencing â€œThe Terrorsâ€, and will be stuck there forever unless Philip gets revenge. Throughout the novel, Dads Ghost instructs Philip on how to go about doing this.
It becomes quickly and painfully clear that most of whatâ€™s going on is in Philipâ€™s head. Heâ€™s distraught over the loss of his father, so itâ€™s no surprise that he would find a way to act out. The problem, though, is that unlike Hamlet, Philip is still a little boy, and so the horrific consequences of his misunderstanding seem that much worse. This is mitigated somewhat by the very active role of Dads Ghost, but itâ€™s still hard to read about these events happening to a kid. (Not all of the events of Haigâ€™s novel line up with those in Hamlet, by the way, so I havenâ€™t given away the entire book.)
With that said, this is still a very clever update of our beloved Shakespeareâ€™s best play, and Philipâ€™s voice is convincing and engaging. On another level, it works as a strangely moving portrait of a kid who has experienced a really devastating loss and has to find a way to accept that loss and move on, even if he goes about doing that in pretty much the worst way possible.
In short: Weird and charming and sad, The Dead Fatherâ€™s Club is worth the read, provided you can stomach seeing a little kid playing out Hamletâ€™s story.
Read it if you like: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, overly precocious pre-adolescent protagonists, modern updates of Shakespeare