Matt Haig – The Dead Fathers Club

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Matt Haig has become essential reading for me over the past few years. His books are generally quite short and easy to read but loaded with interesting philosophical opinions on humanity and life’s absurdities. He’s also not shy of of talking about mental health issues and death in his books, which appeals to me.

For some reason, while I had got through all his fiction apart from The Midnight Library (give me a few days and I’ll have it finished), I somehow overlooked one of his early books – The Dead Fathers Club. Perhaps, in one bibliography it was listed as a book for young adults, so I initially disregarded it. However I need something to pad out all those Bernard Cornwell books on my shelf and so I got it on Kindle and found it very entertaining.

The Dead Fathers Club is a ghost story in which eleven-year-old Philip Noble is haunted by the ghost of his dead father who died in a car accident on a bridge. It’s only after reading a synopsis to remind me of the story, so I could write this post, that I realise it’s very much an often humorous retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The story is written in the form of diary entries akin to Adrian Mole with poor grammar, spelling and an interesting playfulness with words. having kept a diary myself at around that age it brought back some fond memories of trying to make my mundane life interesting for my imaginary reader. Some may argue that not much has changed.

The titular Dead Fathers Club is a posse of ghosts whose members were all murdered. They meet near the bottle banks outside the Castle & Falcon – the pub that Philip’s mum and dad ran. He lives above it with his mum who is soon the focus for his Uncle Alan’s amorous attentions. Philip’s ghost is convinced that his brother is after the family business as well as his widow, and that working as he does in garage was someone who ‘knew about cars’ and could fix his brakes, thus causing his fatal accident. Whether this is actually the case is left for the reader to decide.

Philip’s father tells him that he must avenge his death. Philip is only eleven though and so has trouble figuring out exactly how he’s going to manage it. He builds an arsenal from science lesson supplies but either messes up his attempts or bottles out. His father’s ghost questions his commitment especially when he starts dating the daughter of Uncle Alan’s silent business partner.

Philip is plagued by self-doubt and spends a lot of his time trying to avoid the bullies at his school who have caught him talking to himself. It doesn’t help that he tries to steal a school minibus at one point after encouragement from his father that it was the only way to get back from a school trip in time to stop burglars at the pub hurting his mum.

The Dead Fathers Club is a quick read and lots of fun. It certainly points toward how Haig’s writing would develop to create such gems as The Humans and How to Stop Time.

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