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Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn
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Henry Dunbar, the once all-powerful head of a global media corporation, is not having a good day. In his dotage he hands over care of the corporation to his two eldest daughters, Abby and Megan, but as relations sour he starts to doubt the wisdom of past decisions. Now imprisoned in Meadowmeade, an upscale sanatorium in rural England, with only a demented alcoholic comedian as company, Dunbar starts planning his escape. As he flees into the hills, his family is hot on his heels. But who will find him first, his beloved youngest daughter, Florence, or the tigresses Abby and Megan, so keen to divest him of his estate? Edward St Aubyn is renowned for his masterwork, the five Melrose novels, which dissect with savage and beautiful precision the agonies of family life. His take on King Lear, Shakespeare's most devastating family story, is an excoriating novel for and of our times an examination of power, money and the value of forgiveness.… (more)
Member:m_leigh
Title:Dunbar
Authors:Edward St. Aubyn
Other authors:William Shakespeare
Info:London ; New York : Hogarth, [2017]
Collections:Your library
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Dunbar by Edward St Aubyn

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» See also 23 mentions

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I received a review copy of this book from Netgally.com.

The latest book from Edward St. Aubyn could be described as “Shakespeare meets Tom Sharpe.” The author of the Patrick Melrose novels has taken some of the weight out of “King Lear” and shaped it into a modern tale of financial skullduggery.

“Dunbar” packs a lot of action (some violent, some sexual, some farcical) into a short space. While you can’t fault the plot (Shakespeare!), you might wish that he’d added in a bit more depth to the characters.

This is the second novel I’ve read of the Hogarth Shakespeare series. While I have a third waiting on my shelf, I might not pick it up. They have the feel of an upper level university course assignment. That said, St. Aubyn’s dark imagination and humour shines through the exercise while he piles up the bodies in true Shakespeare faction.

The experience has put me off the Shakespeare adaptations, but I'm still a St. Aubyn fan.
( )
  Leeann_M | Sep 18, 2020 |
Dunbar is a contemporary reworking of Shakespeare’s King Lear, with the eponymous sovereign inventively reimagined as Canadian media mogul Henry Dunbar. Dunbar’s elder daughters Abby and Megan ship him off to a retirement home in Cumbria whilst they engineer a take-over of his media empire. Their plans however go awry when Dunbar, with the help of retired alcoholic comedian Peter Walker, escapes from the care home and sets off on foot into the hills of the Lake District. As Abby and Megan hunt for their father, his youngest daughter Florence joins the family’s old and trusted lawyer Wilson (unfairly dismissed by Dunbar after years of service) and sets up a search party of her own in a bid to find and save her father before he comes to harm.

Much of the pleasure afforded by this novel is similar to that which comes from watching a “modern-dress” Shakespeare production. St Aubyn follows the plot of King Lear quite closely, and it’s fun to seek the often-ingenious parallels between this novel and the play which inspired it. Even considered without reference to Lear, the novel has its merits – it is fast-paced, borrowing as it does from the “corporate” or “legal thriller” genre and, particularly until Walker remains on the scene, it also has a considerable dose of (dark) humour.

Overall, however, “Dunbar” did not work for me. For a start, the novel’s characters and certain plot details were too over the top. Just to give an example, St Aubyn is not happy with casting Abby and Megan ‘merely’ as scheming and shady entrepreneurs. He also portrays them as sadistic nymphomaniacs, guarded by well-honed bodyguards ready to appease them at their beck and call. These elements turn the characters into grotesque caricatures, draining them of their humanity. As a result, instead of underlining Shakespeare’s continued relevance, the novel presents us with figures with whom it is hard to identify. What bothered me most of all, however, is that the narrative and dialogue lack that distinctiveness and originality which I would expect from a supposedly “literary” novel. There is the occasional arresting metaphor but, otherwise, the style struck me as workaday – surely, an author once nominated for the Booker can do better than this?

( )
  JosephCamilleri | Sep 12, 2020 |
Dunbar is a modern retelling of Shakespear's King Lear. It's been quite a long time since I read Lear as an undergraduate and I wondered how much of what I remembered would affect what I read. To a casual reader, it is easy to see how Lear makes the skeleton that the book is built on. Dunbar ruler of an empire divides his corporation between his daughters to avoid taxes and in the process, the daughter's plot against him with the help of Dr. Bob. Dunbar finds himself medicated and trapped in a mental health facility. His only friend is a depressed, alcoholic comedian who helps him escape.

Dunbar has three daughters. Two daughters, Abigail and Megan, are plotting to manipulate the corporation's leadership and standing in order to make a huge profit. Their ally, Doctor Bob, has his own plans and entertains the reader with his self-medication and affairs with the two sisters. They are despicable characters but with enough backstory to make them interesting. The third daughter, Florence, is more attached to her father as a person than his riches. She wants no part of the empire. Florence is environmentally conscious -- does not want to fly in the corporate jet, lives in Wyoming, worries about her carbon footprint.

This is a book where the evil characters seem to be more likable and definitely more interesting than the good. Florence although only wants to do good seems boring when compared to her sisters. Dunbar has rage issues, is power hungry, and his life had been his empire and nothing else. There are plenty of similarities between Dunbar and King Lear to keep a Shakespear fan interested in matching plot and the characters. For those who have not read Lear, it is a modern tycoon story that fits in well with American politics and business today.

This book was received from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for a review. ( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
St. Aubyn's adaptation of "King Lear" for the Hogarth Shakespeare series. Another really excellent installment in the series; each one has been very different, which has made each one quite a treat to read. ( )
  JBD1 | Dec 28, 2018 |
‘’I must tell my story...Oh God, let me not go mad! ‘’

I won’t lie. I am a sworn Shakespeare purist and there is nothing that can alter my mind. My opinion on the Hogarth Shakespeare series is somehow divided. I adored ‘’Vinegar Girl’’ and I look forward to Nesbo’s ‘’Macbeth’’, while ‘’Hag-Seed’’ will find a place in my wintry reads. ‘’King Lear’’ is one of those plays that have haunted me ever since I read it, some 15-odd years ago. I haven’t had the chance to attend a live performance yet, but Shakespeare’s words and the figure of this highly troubling and troubled, tormented man are so powerful that spring alive from the page. Now, with this in mind, I can tell you that ‘’Dunbar’’ seemed to me an uneven retelling. Naturally, no writer is Shakespeare and it is more than apparent in most of the retellings. With this novel, I venture to say that the readers who have not yet read ‘’King Lear’’ are likely to enjoy it and appreciate it even more. I couldn’t…

Henry Dunbar is a mass media mogul. A widower with three daughters, Abigail, Megan and Florence (... as in Goneril, Regan and Cordelia…) Having practically disinherited Florence for being unwilling to dedicate herself to the company, Abby and Megan are given her own share of the fortune. And what do they do? They ‘’imprison’’ him in an asylum in Manchester. What happens next would be easy to guess if you read ‘’King Lear’’.

The characters were the mightiest disappointment, in my opinion. Besides Dunbar and Florence, who are strong equivalents of their original versions, and Chris who somehow stands for the King of France, the rest are not good enough to support such an effort. Wilson, is a hybrid between Gloucester and Kent, but lacks the tragic nature of the Duke and the savviness of Kent and if Dr. Bob is Edmund, then I am Ophelia...He is not powerful enough to make for a convincing antagonist. Now, in my opinion, the characters of Abigail and Megan significantly lowered the quality of the entire novel. They had no strength of presence like Goneril and Regan, and they had no motive. They existed just to be evil and the writer tried too hard to make them appear as such. They had no personality, no evil maturity and menace like the villains in Shakespeare. They just swear, talk to each other while hallucinating and have sex with any male that crosses their path. There was too much emphasis on sex with these women, destroying any hint of a sinister atmosphere and all it accomplished was for them to be reduced to sex-crazed psychopaths, characters that escaped from those rubbish-quality paperbacks with the disgusting front covers…. I don’t claim to know the writer’s intentions, but it was cheap and disrespectful. The way I see it, he lacked the deep insight into the human nature.

‘’Who can tell me who I am? Who I really am?’’

With Dunbar, the futility and remorse of Lear, is clearly and brilliantly depicted. The whole essence of his ordeal was faithful and respectful of its source. The agony to right the wrongs and to escape a world that demands you to be mad is tense and vivid. The scenes of Dunbar’s time in hiding and his thoughts of remorse echo Lear’s tribulations. Florence’s fears for her father and her struggle to protect him from her sisters are well-depicted without being melodramatic. However, the dialogue was rather average and the fact that there were scattered quotes from ‘’King Lear’’ throughout didn’t help. It rather alienated me, to be honest. The overall writing isn’t powerful enough to explore the complexity of the themes of identity and despair of ‘’King Lear’’ and at times, the story became too action-driven and too family drama both of which aren’t to my liking.

‘’No mercy. In this world or the next.’’

The problem is that Dunbar’s words fall empty. The end, although it was to be expected, was no less bitter and shocking. However, it wasn’t convincing enough. I found it to be abrupt and lacking in justice and resolution, the catharsis (however limited) that is communicated in the final Act of the masterpiece. Dunbar may call for no mercy, but there’s noone to hear his words. Perhaps, you will claim that I should judge the book as a work on its own. You will be probably right and I’d still give it the rating I did. The thing is that it’s not a work on its own. It’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s great tragedy and bound to be compared. It cannot stand the comparison, I’m afraid. The finest writers in the world could try to rewrite one of his plays and they would still fall short.

So, as it stands for me, the writer dropped the ball in certain important moments with momentary satisfying highlights. But merely ‘’satisfying’’ doesn’t do, in my opinion. There was no shuttering moments, no dagger nailed into the heart when witnessing the characters’ ordeal, because the writer doesn’t allow us to experience it fully and convincingly. Therefore, I believe that even the 3 stars may be too generous…

Many thanks to Penguin Random House and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
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Henry Dunbar, the once all-powerful head of a global media corporation, is not having a good day. In his dotage he hands over care of the corporation to his two eldest daughters, Abby and Megan, but as relations sour he starts to doubt the wisdom of past decisions. Now imprisoned in Meadowmeade, an upscale sanatorium in rural England, with only a demented alcoholic comedian as company, Dunbar starts planning his escape. As he flees into the hills, his family is hot on his heels. But who will find him first, his beloved youngest daughter, Florence, or the tigresses Abby and Megan, so keen to divest him of his estate? Edward St Aubyn is renowned for his masterwork, the five Melrose novels, which dissect with savage and beautiful precision the agonies of family life. His take on King Lear, Shakespeare's most devastating family story, is an excoriating novel for and of our times an examination of power, money and the value of forgiveness.

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