With only one week to go to the end of the TBR Double Dog Dare, I am pleased to say that I’m on track to complete 20 books that were sitting in my TBR mountain range as of 31.12.2012. I have diverted from the trail only once, and that was because I attended a literary event. It would have been rude not to have read the book first. However, I deem this year’s effort a success and once I have finished my current read, I am going to unpack those bright new shiny books and indulge myself.

Strategies that helped me succeed in 2013. Firstly, the mindmap – it has changed somewhat since first shown. I’ve now transferred it to digital format – using a newly discovered and affordable software package, MindHD. Once I’ve worked out how to export it to a blog displayable format, I shall share.

I also took inspiration from CB’s 5-star event badge.

Double dog dare

Inspecting the TBR, I discovered a veritable kennel full of shaggy dog stories. Given that this was a double dog dare, I decided to read two of them.

Rebecca Hunt’s Mr Chartwell looks like a friendly and companionable chap on the 1st edition cover. He’d like you to think that and to inveigle his way into your affections in order to suck the lust for life out of you with the dark clouds of depression that he triggers. For Mr Chartwell is the black dog of depression that – er – dogged Churchill throughout his life. Churchill though was aware of his inherited weakness and with the help of his formidable wife, Clementine, managed to deny his adversary the victory. Lesser mortals, such as Churchill’s daughter, and Michael, husband of the fictitious Esther, succumb to his seductions and take their own lives.

I use the word seduction deliberately because that is what Mr Chartwell sets out to do when he pays his first visit to Esther, close to the 2nd anniversary of her husband’s death. When he knocks on her door in search of lodgings he is, if you accept the conceit, ignore his threatening size and earthly smell, a traditional lodger.

Mr Chartwell’s black lips carved a cordial smile …. he extended a paw the size of a turnip. “Hello, I’ve come about the room.”

At first, he is a well-behaved dog but he in just 5 short days he invades and wrecks Esther’s physical space and seeks to do the same to her mind. He moves seamlessly from polite, witty and intelligent lodger (his literary frame of reference is tremendous), through personal space invader to all out psychological attack. It is a war although Black Pat, as Mr Chartwell prefers to be called, insists he and Esther are fighting on the same side.

Churchill’s story shows the conscious and determined efforts that must be undertaken to deny Black Pat. The two narratives eventually converge in a scene where Esther, a secretary at Westminster, is taking dictation from Churchill on the eve of his retirement. Black Pat is in the room and Churchill counsels Esther in the vein of we will fight them on the beaches without once referring to him. Simply masterful.

The dog in Kate Atkinson’s fourth and final Jackson Brodie novel is the abused not the abuser. Fortunately he is rescued by Brodie and serves as his companion throughout a case which begins fairly innocuously (Brodie is trying to find the origins of an adopted girl, now living in New Zealand) but soon becomes life-threatening. The dog has to return the life-saving favour to Brodie at one point. This Brodie/canine drama is reenacted in the human sphere when Tracy Waterhouse, ex-cop, spontaneously takes a young child, being dragged through a shopping centre, from her prostitute and foul-mouthed mother. Money exchanges hands, making Tracy’s adoption of the girl illegal and scuppering any plans Tracy had for a quiet retirement.

Brodie’s investigation leads to the 70’s and the police force to which Tracy belonged. Events then eerily echo the present: murdered prostitutes, illegal adoptions and the key to it all perhaps locked in the fading memory of a soap actress named Tilly. This thread, which for me was an utter irrelevance at the start, actually became the most satisfying. An inversion of expectations that is probably what the author wanted to achieve. Because Brodie in these pages is a grey soul, recuperating still from previous traumas and certainly not the centre or the cohesive force of this narrative. Atkinson said on completing this novel that she was done with him. At times it felt as though she had put him to one side while in the act of writing. Still, at least, she let him walk off into the sunset with a new four-legged friend. There’s plenty of comfort for the man that.

Mr Chartwell  4stars  / Started Early, Took My Dog  stars3