2018-12-06 / Opinions

Book Review


Dunbar is the latest in Ho­garth Press’ reinterpretations of Shakespeare’s plays by current best-selling, acclaimed (not necessarily the same thing) novelists. As most of us remember, William Shakespeare himself found plots in diverse places and times, adapting them to the theater and for the enjoyment of his Elizabethan audiences. Many of today’s readers will be caught up in this wrenching tale of an old mad, formerly powerful man, fighting for survival and forgiveness.

Henry Dunbar once headed a global media corporation. He foolishly handed over control of the company to his vicious, evil daughters, Abigail and Megan, disinheriting his loving but honest daughter Florence (Cordelia in the original King Lear). Now Abigail and Megan and their compatriots have closed him up in a “nursing home” prison, having convinced the public that he is incapable of managing the company, not far from the truth. It has been a large mansion, whose “dimensions, generous as they were for a large Victorian household, could not keep up with the modern demand for a place in which to neglect the mad, the old, and the dying.”

Dunbar has one friend in the home, an unreliable ex-comedian Peter Walker, who engineers their escape. They soon part ways, and Peter is suborned by the daughters into telling where their father is. His punishment for that weakness is dire. Meanwhile, Dunbar is wandering, lost and alone, in a fierce storm. He realizes, in his confusion and fear, that his own greed and ruthlessness have been a part of his story, but is helpless after years of being in command.

His whereabouts in the home had been kept secret from Florence and his few remaining loyal (in spite of his betrayals) friends. Florence and her team have finally located him and are hurrying to the rescue, but he has eluded them, too. Like any crime thriller, the narrative moves swiftly, shifting points of view to reveal the characters’ plans and machinations. There is a corporate conspiracy to complete the concept of a modern story. The plot is recognizable, and the reader knows that all will not end well. The action is compelling, even as the reader tries to recall King Lear, and the parts those characters played. Dunbar is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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