The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig

The Dead Fathers Club
Matt Haig
(cover art by David Hughes)
Vintage Books 2007
£7.99 (UK)

Book review | The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig | 3 stars

★★★☆☆

Synopsis

Philip Noble is an eleven-year-old in crisis. His pub landlord father has died in a road accident, and his mother is succumbing to the greasy charms of her dead husband’s brother, Uncle Alan. The remaining certainties of Philip’s life collapse when his father’s ghost appears in the pub and declares Uncle Alan murdered him.

Arming himself with weapons from the school chemistry cupboard, Philip vows to carry out the ghost’s relentless demands for revenge. But will Leah, the gorgeous daughter of Uncle Alan’s God-fearing business partner, Mr. Fairview, prove too much of a distraction? And can the word of a ghost be trusted any more and the lies of the living? Philip makes his decision when the moment comes to act, he finds himself hurtling towards disaster.

Review

First off, that was some pretty bad parenting, even from a ghost. Just working under the assumption that the ghost was real and Philip really was talking to his father; what kind of father would ask his son to commit murder just to make his own life (in this case dead) easier? Doesn’t seem right to me. On top of that there’s some terrible emotional manipulation: “If you ever loved me…” No, that’s not what dad’s should do.

On the other hand, if the ghost wasn’t real and it was all in Philip’s imagination, he must’ve not felt very sure of his love for his father. Later on in the book, he also begins to realize that his father wasn’t perfect after all.

Moving on, the writing was interesting. I liked the child-like voice used, to make you feel like everything really was told from the perspective of an 11 y.o. On the other hand, would it have killed you to use some more interpunction!? Honestly, seriously extremely annoying. Example:

I said No.
Leah said You sure?

Now imagine this is the way conversations are written down throughout the book. The only interpunction used are question marks and full stops. It seems cute at first, but reading a whole book like that just got on my nerves.

The characters were all just a bit off. The father/ghost I’ve already mentioned. His mom however, also doesn’t seem like the brightest crayon in the box, moving on to the next guy not two months after Philip’s father has died. Alan (the uncle/possible murderer) doesn’t help matters much and tries to bribe Philip, but isn’t very nice to him when no one else is around.

The Philip character is something else altogether. He is 11 y.o. and just lost his father. Perhaps that could explain for some of the discrepancies in character. He seems to know all about sex (immediately knows what it is when he sees it, even though he’s never seen it before), but seems to be horribly lacking in other facts. I just couldn’t connect to him with all the discrepancies and lack of emotion.

The story itself is interesting enough, it’s a Hamlet retelling set in the modern world. I’ve not read Hamlet, so I can’t compare the two, but the story was definitely good up till a point. After a while, the ghost became very annoying and I just wanted the story to be over. It’s never clear what’s been going on all along; was there really a ghost and did Alan really kill his brother like the ghost claimed, or did Philip have a mental breakdown and was everything in his head?

It was fun to read, but I doubt I’ll ever read it again. However, I am more interested in reading Hamlet now.

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