by Rana Asfour
Philip Noble is an 11-year-old boy whose dad, owner of the 'Castle and Falcon' pub, has recently died in a car crash leaving behind Philip and his mother, Carol. What we soon learn, is that Philip's dad is like no other dad, for he returns as a ghost and reveals to his son that his death was no accident; he was murdered by his evil brother Uncle Alan who has always had designs not only on the pub but on Philip’s mother as well. His instructions to Philip are clear: He must kill grubby garage owner uncle Alan so that, he, the father may avoid ‘The Terrors’ and rest in peace.
If the novel's plot is sounding vaguely familiar, then you're right. 'The Dead Fathers Club’, first published in Great Britain in 2006, gives more than a nod towards Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' and as such many readers who are familiar with the play will have a wild time picking out the references in the book. Generally hilarious and unpredictable, Matt Haig's novel offers poignant insights into the strange workings of the world as seen through the eyes of this particular child.
She wrote CEASAR SALAD and I saw a picture in my head of Julius Ceasar with an apron on chopping a tomato and I thought how bad my brain was that it thinks stupid things even when it is planning a Murder
Philip North is a special boy who explores the world in a very sensitive, highly unusual way. Very intelligent for his age, he is nonetheless ridiculed, alienated and bullied by most of his peers not only for being different but more recently for acquiring the habit of talking to himself. Of course, nobody is aware of Philip’s ability to communicate with his dead father who has instructed him that he must keep their communication secret.
Philip is the narrator of his story and he does so on his own terms. This individuality comes out in the writing. There is not - throughout the entire novel - one apostrophe or comma, which at the start makes for quite an unsettling experience for the reader until one begins to form a picture of Philip's personality and the way his mind works. A couple of pages later, it becomes quite easy to follow the boy's reasoning and to connect with it - Mark Haddon's 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' springs to mind. Although there are instances when the reasoning is slightly too sophisticated to be coming from an eleven-year-old, the writing remains without any doubt one that is solid, masterful, witty, humorous and charming and it is this particularity that elevates the novel from a great read to a memorable one.
Philip lives with his mum in the top floor of his dad’s pub in Newark-on-Trent. It is, as the ghost predicted, not long before uncle Alan moves in and takes full control. After only two months of the crash, Alan and Carol announce their engagement.
Incensed by the announcement, Philip's resolve to seek justice for his father is renewed and he begins to amass his weaponry in the form of highly combustible materials and poisonous liquids that he acquires from his classroom cabinet aided by his father’s very unreliable ghost. Soon, Philip is ready to carry out his plan; his one dilemma is how to ensure Alan goes out with a bang without harming others whom Philip loves and cares about.
However, as with any plan, things don’t always turn out the way you want them to. And in this novel there is more than one instance where this holds true. But through it all, there is this little boy trying to figure his place in the world; a world in which he is forced to make a choice between his sense of obligation and duty to his father and his sense of what is right and wrong, between his hate for Uncle Alan and his love for his mum, all at a time when his bullies have become relentless and an inconvenient romance has decided to make a surprise appearance.
As Philip wades through the wreckage of his life in the aftermath of his father’s death, the real and the imagined blur, and, it is we, the readers, who are torn between rooting for Philip or praying he never succeeds as plans to commit the perfect murder remain firmly underway.