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The Dead Fathers Club
Matt Haig
Narrated by Andrew Dennis, unabridged
HighBridge Audio, 6 hours, 45 minutes

The Dead Fathers Club
Matt Haig
Matt Haig was born in 1975 in Sheffield, UK. He has written for The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Face. His novels are often dark and quirky takes on family life. The Last Family in England, a bestseller in the UK, tells the story of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 with the protagonists as dogs. Its film rights have been sold to Brad Pitt's Plan B production company.

Matt Haig Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sarah Trowbridge

Suppose that Hamlet were an 11-year-old modern-day English boy, and his late father not the King of Denmark but the owner of a pub in Newark-on-Trent. That is the starting point of this refreshing novel that is part ghost story, part coming-of-age tale. Paying homage to Shakespeare's masterpiece throughout, Matt Haig nevertheless has created a story all his own.

Young Philip Noble delivers a first-person account in the frank, unpolished tone of the pre-adolescent. The novel opens in the family pub, following the death of Philip's dad in a car crash. Surrounded by family and pub regulars, Philip sees his dad's ghost for the first time. The ghost reveals that he is now a member of the Dead Fathers Club, a group of Newark dads whose lives ended in murder. According to Philip's father's ghost, the fatal incident with his car was no accident, but the deliberate work of his own brother, Philip's uncle Alan, a mechanic who runs a thriving local garage. The ghost urges Philip to exact revenge, telling him that this must be accomplished before the dead man's next birthday -- a period of only 11 weeks. Otherwise, Philip's father will be doomed to remain a ghost for all eternity, suffering from a mysterious and unspeakably awful affliction called "The Terrors."

So begins the struggle between Philip's conscience and his sense of duty to his father, between his increasing rage toward Uncle Alan and his own powerlessness, and between the wreckage of his home life and the treacherous waters of the outside world. Comic and dramatic by turns, the action is interpreted for the listener by Philip, capably voiced by 12-year-old performer Andrew Dennis. For listeners accustomed to hearing polished, professional, adult voices reading audiobooks, the reedy prepubescent voice may require some getting used to at first. However, it quickly becomes clear that Dennis is well cast, capturing perfectly Philip's confused, yet matter-of-fact response to his world. When dialogue occurs, the tones of voice he gives the different speakers sound just like what you would expect from a young boy relating a conversation to a friend.

Along the way there are plenty of tidbits for the Shakespeare-savvy. For family video night with his mother and Uncle Alan, Philip selects a movie called The Murder of Gonzago, planning to gauge his uncle's guilt by his reaction to the story of a man who murders his brother and marries the widow. Philip suspects that Ross and Gary, the twin sons of Carla the bartender, have been bribed by Uncle Alan to spy on him. Philip even has a pet fish named Gertrude.

The Dead Fathers Club is both entertaining and moving, and lends itself well to an audio presentation. The listener experiences the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears, the setbacks and the epiphanies, of Philip's journey right along with him, in the headlong rush of narration delivered by young Andrew Dennis. This performer is one to watch for in the future; once his voice changes, we should be hearing his talents put to use in the service of a wide variety of stories.

Copyright © 2008 Sarah Trowbridge

Sarah Trowbridge reads (and listens) compulsively, chronically, and eclectically. She is a public librarian in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.

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