The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig

While I was reading this book, I got a lot of strange looks. Mostly, I think, people thought I was being morbid. “It’s like HAMLET,” I said. “The ghost of his father tells him that his uncle had him killed. I’m not being morbid!” Nobody seemed to care.

The Dead Fathers Club is about Philip, an eleven-year-old boy whose father recently died in a car accident. If that isn’t challenging enough, soon Philip is seeing the ghost of his father, who informs him that it wasn’t just an accident – he was killed by his brother Alan, Philip’s uncle. If Philip doesn’t seek revenge and kill Alan by his dad’s next birthday, his dad will live as a ghost in the land of the Terrors forever.

While Philip is trying to figure out what to do, Alan is taking over his father’s pub and wooing his mother. Not only that, but Philip is also having to deal with bullies and girls . . . it’s a lot for an eleven-year-old to have to deal with.

Many reviewers compared this to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and that was the only thing I could think of, too, that was remotely close. It’s written in first-person, which takes a bit of getting used to, since Philip doesn’t always use correct punctuation. He sounds, in short, like an eleven-year-old.

In addition, much like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, there is an air of unreliability about Philip, just as there was with Christopher. You have to decide for yourself whether you believe that Philip is actually seeing the ghost of his father, or if he’s simply losing it.

In the end, this book didn’t totally work for me. It was funny and interesting, if (as expected) a little dark. I don’t think it’s necessary to know Hamlet well, but in reading the author’s website, I think I would have enjoyed it better if I’d brushed up on Hamlet first (it’s been a while). It’s an ambiguous book, and it did that very very well – the book I am currently reading has a lot of forced ambiguity, where the author is deliberately choosing not to reveal certain things in order to build suspense. The Dead Fathers Club, though, has ambiguity because it’s from the perspective of a very confused eleven-year-old, which is organic to the story, not forced. I think the reason it didn’t work for me is that the ending was a little bit more ambiguous than I had hoped for, though I think that it worked for the book.

Basically, what it boils down to is that this isn’t my favorite kind of book, though what it did, it did very well. I wasn’t completely enamored of The Curious Incident, either – I could see why people liked it, but it didn’t do all that much for me. So, if you’re a Hamlet buff and you liked The Curious Incident, you might give this a try – it’s an interesting concept that kept me guessing until the end.

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