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Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn
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1771895,477 (3.62)20



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‘’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 |
Great retelling of the Shakespeare classic. Evil people but some redemption ( )
  Doondeck | Jul 11, 2018 |
Edward St. Aubyn is a great writer. He works very well with language and is able to be both funny and show great insight at the same time. In this book he is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series where modern writers(Margaret Atwood, Ann Tyler) retell Shakespeare. In this case it is King Lear. St. Aubyn updates it with Dunbar being a media tycoon who gives up control to his older conniving daughters and rejects his younger daughter. It is the Lear plot but in the hands of St. Aubyn is it a page turner. For someone who has never read St. Aubyn this is a good introductory book. If you enjoy this book then read the Patrick Melrose novels which are classics. His prose is among the best. One of my favorite authors. ( )
  nivramkoorb | Apr 4, 2018 |
On the spectrum of books I've read in this series, this one falls somewhere between middling and good. St. Aubyn does well at engaging with the themes of insanity and family loyalty but his characterizations of the two elder sisters (Abigail and Megan in this version) reach almost scenery gnawing levels of villainy. At the same time, Florence (this version's Cordelia) remains largely bland and only interesting when she's interacting with other men (sigh). If you're a completist when it comes to this series or you're a big fan of [King Lear], this one is worth picking up but otherwise no strong recommendation for or against. ( )
  MickyFine | Jan 17, 2018 |
St. Aubyn retells Shakespeare's King Lear using a media magnate as King Lear. His two oldest daughters want to usurp his power, having him declared mentally incapable. He's a bit estranged from the younger daughter who moved out to Wyoming, but when she hears what her sisters are up to, she attempts to reach her dad who escaped from the asylum before the sisters can. Ther author even incorporated some stage instructions into the narrative early in the book making me laugh out loud. This is probably my second favorite in the series to date, with top honors going to Hagseed by Margaret Atwood. ( )
  thornton37814 | Dec 28, 2017 |
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"We're off our meds," whispered Dunbar.
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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)

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