Dunbar

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Jan 2018

Member Reviews

I generally enjoy the Hogarth series, in which authors write novels based on Shakespeare plays.  I like bearing witness to the creative process of setting up the  modern-day scenario, updating issues and themes of the day.  In this case, St. Aubyn seems to have enjoyed the setup, too, and then lost interest.  I like the basic premise, and Lear's character (Dunbar himself) is well-realized, but the female characters are problematic at best, and he bails on the final scenes, figuring we know how it ends, I suppose.  So I feel like it was a half effort.  A good start, but not finished.  But I've never read anything else by this author, and this is a funny way to discover authors, so perhaps this is either his style or so far out of it that I shouldn't take it too seriously.  

I got a copy to review from Net Galley.
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'Dunbar' by Edward St. Aubyn is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series.  This time around, the play that inspires the story is King Lear.

When we meet Henry Dunbar, he is in an elder care home that feels more like an insane asylum based on his alcholic friend's odd musings.  He has handed his company over to his eldest daughters, Abby and Megan, and he is having doubts about his decision.  This leads him to escape the home he is trapped in.  He is hoping his daughter Florence will find him before Abby and Megan do.

I've read a couple of books in this series, and this one was good, but wasn't as good as Tracy Chevalier's 'New Boy' with took on Othello.  The royal family aspects do translate well to modern corporations, but it might have been more interesting to more dramatically transform this play to a new setting. The characters are all so cold and bitter, that I found myself not caring what ultimately happened to them.

I received a review copy of this ebook from Crown Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you for allowing me to review this ebook.
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Thanks to Hogarth Press for a free e-ARC of this book.  It took me down a rabbit hole of Lear - reading the play (despite back in the late '80's taking 2 graduate courses in Shakespeare, and 1 in Elizabethan drama, I had never read King Lear before) and watching numerous filmed versions of it on DVD and streaming.  Everything from Orson Welles' 1 hour TV version of the play, to the full 3 hour full version by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
I've read 4 of St Aubyn's novels before, and I think knowing his work helps a reader better appreciate this version of Lear.  I also think he is a perfect choice for this play.  It is not a scene by scene rewrite of the famous play (thankfully! - OTOH, I do miss the Poor Tom character).  A modernization of the play, internationally set, peopled by the 1% of the ilk of Murdoch and Trumpf.  
St Aubyn's unusual descriptions and descriptors, and his dense prose fit the story well - and his cadences often reminded me of Shakespeare's own.  He gets the nastiness of the original Lear, and transports it to today's world.   
My largest complaint is the ending - left far to wide open.  Only a couple people dead, threats of revenge (only - no action), and we are not told the final outcome of the attempts to control the huge media company.  He just seems to lop it off and call it finished.  
But a book to read for St Aubyn fans.  For Shakespeare purists, may challenge their 16th/17th C sensibilities a little too much.
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I love retellings of classic stories. This is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear. It captivated me from the beginning. I found it hard to put down.
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In St. Aubyn's reimagining of King Lear, Dunbar is an aging billionaire betrayed by his two daughters  and eventually rescued by his third, the youngest and his favorite. A well written retelling that is more sad than tragic with a dollop of bitter humor. The entire story feels rushed, especially the ending, but readers will find much to ponder and discuss.
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I would like to tell you why I wanted to read this novel.
One out of three probably isn’t the best batting average, but the “one” was so strong that it overcame the other two.  First, I have never read King Lear, so I was at a disadvantage on the plot line. I also had not heard of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, so that’s strike two. But the home run came when I saw that Edward St. Aubyn had written this recreation of Shakespeare’s tragic family tale.
Anyone who has read St. Aubyn knows that he is the master of the dysfunctional family. No subject escapes his acerbic wit. I can think of no other writer who evinces more chuckles from me. He displays the same talents in Dunbar that I so loved in the Patrick Melrose series: comedy, tragedy, family interaction, social injustice.
Dunbar is thoroughly modern. The setting is a corporate world, where Henry Dunbar is a media mogul who had turned his empire over to two of his three daughters. The two evil sisters’ lust for power drive them to have Dunbar declared unstable, and place him in a sanatorium. The third sister, who has no interest in the machinations of business, has been disinherited and lives on a ranch in Wyoming, caring more for the environment than for wealth and power. Dunbar escapes from the sanitorium with an alcoholic comedian, and the third sister begins a quest to find her father before the Evil ones recapture him.  A motley assortment of subordinate characters display so many characteristics of today’s society, both good and bad. 
St. Aubyn’s retelling of this tragedy is compelling because he introduces a comedic aspect. The purist may find fault with this interpretation, but I was not encumbered by previous conceptions of what Shakespeare meant. I think St. Aubyn’s writing is beautiful, and I love the way he weaves humor into his work. I enjoyed the book, and recommend it highly.
I received an ARC from Netgalley and Crown Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
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Henry Dunbar should be a happy man.  He created a massive media empire over which he ruled for many years, a feared and influential man.  So how has he ended up in Meadowmeade, a sanatorium for the very wealthy but a prison nonetheless?  It's amazing how little it took to strip Henry of his empire.  Take two greedy daughters, Megan and Abby.  Once they recruited Henry's personal physician to give him drugs to disorient his mind, things escalated rapidly, ending in Henry's total loss of freedom and access to funds.  He has one more daughter, Florence, but Henry pushed her aside a while back when she refused to get caught up in the battles of the business, opting instead to move to a remote location and live with her husband and children.

But Henry has a plan.  He's been hiding his medicine for a while now instead of taking it and his mind is getting clearer.  Along with his best friend in the clinic, he plans to escape and then take back his empire.  The initial phase goes well and they escape, but the friend opts to return, leaving Henry to push onward into the fog and mountain passes of the rural England landscape.  Can a man in his condition survive?  Who will find him, his two older daughters or his younger one who has forgiven him everything?

Hogarth Publishing has undertaken having authors rewrite Shakespeare's plays in a more modern setting.  This title is the rewrite of King Lear and as that title was, is full of drama and tragedy.  It ponders the question of what is really important in life, titles and money and fulfilling work or family and love?  Henry is not a positive main character although there is much to admire in him.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
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Though more sardonic in tone, Dunbar succeeds as an adroit re-imagining of King Lear.

Many key characters have their direct parallels, as is appropriate, and other roles are combined, demoted, or pulled into more prominence in order to serve the contemporary setting. The Fool especially is well cast as an aging, drunk, ridiculous yet incisive comedian also living in the facility in which Dunbar is committed.

The strength of this work is the skill of internal monologue, especially those of Dunbar. The sins of his past are not minimized, and his coming to terms with the consequences provide frame not only for self-realization but also believable, evocative expression. That truth is revealed in the context of delusion increases its power, and the prose in these passages plays into a twisted beauty.

The elder sisters are caricatured in their evil, and the sexual angles played into too-easy cliché. However, slight missteps such as this are more than compensated for by stronger choices, such as depicting a virtual (and strangely moving) blinding of Dunbar rather than a literal one.

One of the stronger entries of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, and one that holds up both on its own merits and as companion to its inspiration.
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Dunbar is a rewrite of Shakespeare's King Lear.  Dunbar, the CEO of a global media corporation, has given the running of his empire over to his two oldest daughters, while retaining all the power for himself.  This doesn't sit well with his power-hungry daughters who commit him to a sanitorium in rural England.  With the help of a fellow inmate, Dunbar escapes into the countryside, tailed by his youngest daughter who genuinely cares for him, and his two oldest daughters.

This book was just okay for me.  It's been many years since I read Lear, and Dunbar loosely followed the plot.  I might read something else by the author because I enjoyed the writing, but this story did not really work for me.
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The tragedy of Shakespeare’s King Lear is well known to almost every reader: An aging head of state decides to step down from his throne and considers how to divide his kingdom among his three daughters.  Two daughters shamelessly promote their own causes and receive equal shares of the estate.  One daughter, who actually loves her father, refuses to stoop to sycophantic flattery and is disowned.  The king soon learns the mistake he has made and the ensuing internecine strife in the family eventually dooms them all.

So, how do you update this time-honored story for a modern audience?  In Dunbar, Edward St. Aubyn gives us his answer.  Henry Dunbar has decided to step away from the multi-national communications company he has ruthlessly built.  He turns over his stake in the operation to the daughters who have remained loyal to the firm while freezing out the one who wanted to live her own life.  After escaping from the mental facility where his duplicitous offspring have placed him with the help of an unethical doctor, Dunbar seeks to reunite with the one child he has wronged while trying to thwart the plot of the other two schemers.  Of course, none of this ends well, but then we already knew that would happen.

This is the sixth offering in Hogarth Shakespeare’s ambitious project to reimagine some of the Immortal Bard’s more famous plays as novels.  For me, this particular rendition was entertaining, if only moderately successful.  The new plot follows the original story very closely in the broad details, rather than trying to reinvent the tale in a creative way, as Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed did for The Tempest.  Still, St. Aubyn has produced more compelling fiction than other authors in the series who simply tried to transport the original story to the present day (e.g., Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy, Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl).  In particular, I thought the author’s use of a hostile corporate takeover to motivate the novel’s climax was quite clever and also managed to correctly convey the financial details of how those transactions actually work.  Overall, while Dunbar does not leave a significant impression, it was a well-crafted book that was a pleasure to read.
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Edward St Aubyn joins other well known authors in the Hogarth project which will see Shakespeare’s plays reimagined.  Dunbar is his take on King Lear.  While he follows the basic story line, it plays out in a very modern world of corporate greed and power. 

Henry Dunbar is a media mogul whose organization is under threat of takeover from within and without. His two older daughters, the evil Megan and Abby, will stop at nothing to gain control of the company including drugging their father and committing him to a remote nursing home.  Florence, their half-sister and Dunbar’s youngest daughter, has been out of favor with her father who has become somewhat confused and resents her lack of interest in the company.  An escape ensues and ultimately Florence comes to rescue her father and they are reunited before tragedy strikes.  

I enjoyed the book and St Aubyn’s sarcasm and wit along with his wonderful writing.   The story at times is a bit far-fetched but an enjoyable read nonetheless.
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Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series.  This is a reimagining of King Lear and my favourite in the series so far.
Edward St. Aubyn has written a masterful story worthy of the tradgedy  of King Lear.  Money, power, anger, then an epiphany and forgiveness. Dunbar's epiphany during his escape is exquisitely written and heartwrenching/heartwarming to read.
Highly recommended.
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While I have enjoyed some of the Hogarth Shakespeare retelling series, I have my issues with retellings in general.  I think knowing the general outcome just makes their reading less enjoyable to me.  Dunbar, however, was a little more surprising as a King Lear reboot.  I enjoyed the present day media empire setting, and the recasting of the main and peripheral characters as a Media Mogul / Patriarch and his daughters, their body guards and doctors.  Edward St Aubyn's prose is dense and somewhat lyrical, if a little over done at times.  

I would recommend this to fans of the Hogarth Shakespeare Series, readers of literary contemporary fiction.
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As I have been hoping to read any of the Hogarth retellings, I was very glad to see this one available as ARC. I admittedly have only ever seen performances of 'King Lear' and have not yet read the play. However, I felt confident I knew the story well enough to dive right into this story. I was hoping too much. The first 20% of this was very intriguing and kept me reading. From there, I struggled to continue it. The daughters, while they do personify the daughters in the play, I felt they were a bit hard to stomach in the modern world. Their appetites and greed were a little too graphic for me, specifically the scene with Dr. Bob early on. While I felt the story spoke to the story and Dunbar/Lear in many aspects, I didn't enjoy it overly much.
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Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn is a worthy addition to the Hogarth Shakespeare series where notable authors have reworked Shakespearean plays and set them in novel form in modern times.  Elderly Henry Dunbar is a modern day King Lear who has ruthlessly built a media empire only to turn it over to his two psychopathic daughters Abby and Megan who have stashed him far away from Manhattan in an English psychiatric facility.  Is he “more sinn’d against than sinning.”?  Can he escape and wrest control of his legacy from Abby and Megan and leave his legacy to his good daughter Florence, who went to live in the wilds of Wyoming?  Florence does not want her father’s media empire or money but only a relationship with him.  Abby and Megan are so psychopathic their characters and actions make extremely unpleasant reading—graphic violence and sex.  Dunbar escapes from the facility with the help of Peter, an alcoholic former comedian, and sets off across the moorlands in bleak winter weather to escape.  He realizes “there was no one else to blame for the treachery of everything; the horror, in the end, the horror was the way his mind worked..”. Will he survive?  Will he find redemption and forgiveness?  Will the good sister or the bad sisters find him first?  If you are a fan of Shakespeare and King Lear, this was a brilliant reworking of the play.  Thank you Hogarth/Crown and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book and for allowing me to review it.
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Ever since I read Margaret Atwood's retelling of Shakespeare's Tempest in Hag-Seed, I've been eagerly reading the other books in Hogarth Publishing's ambitious Shakespeare project. The publishing house has tasked well-known authors with writing re-imaginings of some of the thespian's most famous works. While this has been an interesting exercise, the results have been decidedly mixed. Only Atwood has managed to craft a story that truly stands on its own feet. Still, the exercise itself has been enough to keep me reading, and I was happy to receive a copy of the latest novel in the series Dunbar from the publisher.

Dunbar sees author Edward St. Aubyn have his hand at King Lear. Canadian media mogul Henry Dunbar, the King Lear of this iteration, finds himself in a retirement home/sanitarium. His two older daughters conspire against him, taking control of his company and leaving him to rot in the care home. Dunbar may be old, but he's not going to give up his company without a fight. With the assistance of a depressed former thespian Peter, Dunbar escapes his room and begins a quest to take back control from his conniving daughters.

This is the third book in Hogarth's collection that I've read. I find my reaction to Dunbar to be pretty similar to my reaction of Tracy Chevalier's New Boy. While I appreciate many of the moments in the novel, I don't think it really lives up to the standards of the play it is reimagining. To his credit, St. Aubyn gives the novel a kind of political thriller feel with Dunbar working agains forces conspiring against him and his company. Still, the story never seems to exist beyond the point of retelling Shakespeare's narrative. Dunbar can be thrilling and has some surprisingly witty characters, but I'm starting to question the artistic merit of this exercise. Jo Nesbo throws in his take on Macbeth next year, so I'm not ruling out reading more from this collection.
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This review was posted on Goodreads:

I received an ARC of this through Netgalley from Crown Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

I have read most of the Hogarth Shakespeare series with my favourites being Hag-Seed and the Gap of Time. With that being said, some of the retellings are fabulous and some just fall flat. This one fell somewhere in the middle for me. 

I never covered King Lear in highschool but I did manage to read an abbreviated version of it awhile back. I've also never read any of St. Aubyn's novels before but I like his style.

Things that I liked about this retelling:

- It's references to Canada. You don't get that very often and since I'm Canadian, I think it's awesome
- The over the top and total embellishment of the defining character traits of the sisters. Meagan and Abby had me in hysterics with their sexual appetites, their total lack of ethics and morality, and their narcissism. And then you had Florence on the complete opposite spectrum....environmentalist, not caring about money, etc. You know the drill...they are of course based on the characters in the play. I think I just appreciated this take on them a bit more. Peter....oh Peter...how I wish I could have heard him speak in all of his different voices.

What I didn't like:

- The ending.....it stopped light years before it should have. So many loose ends, people still kicking around when they shouldn't be. Come on...I was looking forward to some death and destruction.
- The whole stock trading thing...I'm a simple person and I was totally confused by the trading aspect, the financials involved etc. I admit I may have skimmed over this part.

Overall, it was ok. Not great but not too bad. I've seen from various other reviewers that there are better versions to check out and I think I will. But it is worth a read, especially for the portrayal of the sisters alone.
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Edward St. Aubyn’s Dunbar features an aging king of an international media empire, his two faithless older daughters from his failed first marriage, his faithful yet rejected youngest daughter from his second marriage, his precarious mental state, his oldest daughters’ attempts to wrest control of his media empire from him, and his attempts to rescue his empire and resuscitate his relationship with his youngest daughter.  Whew:  sounds a lot like King Lear, right?  True to his brief, St. Aubyn brings King Lear up-to-date by hueing closely but not slavishly to the original plot, 

The very first lines of Dunbar set the tone:  
“’We’re off our meds,’ whispered Dunbar.
‘We’re off our meds/we’re off our heads,’ sang Peter, we’re out of our beds/ and we’re off our meds!  Yesterday,’ he continued in a conspiratorial whisper, ‘we were drooling into the lapels of our terry cloth dressing gowns, but now we’re off our meds!  We’ve spat them out; we’ve tranquilized the aspidistras!’”

The lines reflect the clever humor typical of Dunbar.  The first lines also foreshadow Dunbar’s oddly affecting mixture of pathos, tragedy, and humor.  There’s an underlying ambiguity in Dunbar:  I was sometimes unsure of whether St. Aubyn was satirizing King Lear, retelling it with occasional humor, or both.   Can Dunbar stand on its own as a credible and engaging novel, or is it best read only as a modern reinterpretation of King Lear?   The unforgettable denouement of Shakespeare’s Lear borders on camp in St. Aubyn’s Dunbar.  Perhaps less Shakespeare and more St. Aubyn would have made Dunbar as a contemporary retelling of Lear more convincing. 

Despite these reservations, Dunbar displays St. Aubyn’s signature blend of wonderfully fluid writing, empathy for characters, engaging plotting, and sometimes unexpected humor typical of his Patrick Melrose quartet and Lost for Words.  Setting aside Lear, Dunbar is engaging and enjoyable.

Thank you to Hogarth Shakespeare and NetGalley for providing me with Dunbar:  King Lear Retold.
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Edward St. Aubyn's DUNBAR is a masterful addition to the Hogarth Shakespeare collection. Not only is his adaptation of King Lear surprising and creative, but it is timely and deeply human. Reading DUNBAR is a bit like reading LEAR from inside Lear. St. Aubyn's language is, as always, crisp and evocative, and the novel pulls you along. Just one more chapter before I get up. Okay, maybe one more. Yes, it's that kind of good. Read DUNBAR. You won't be disappointed.
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Dunbar is the sixth novel in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, but it was actually my first. (No, I haven't read Hag-Seed.) So it wasn't a desire to keep up with the Hogarth series that drove me to click 'request' on this title - I was drawn to it because for whatever reason I just really, really like King Lear. 

The main question on my mind as I was reading was: what exactly is the purpose of a retelling? I don't think there's ever going to be a definitive consensus on this subject, as I'm sure some of us prefer our retellings on the more literal side, while others prefer them to be more abstract. But in general, I'd say that for a retelling to be a success, that the book should pay homage to the original while still adding something new to the story - maybe exploring certain themes present in the original in greater depth.

So with that in mind, how did Dunbar fare? I can't quite make up my mind. Dunbar is a contemporary spin on the tale in which the titular figure is a Canadian media mogul, whose company is currently being usurped by his two vindictive daughters, Abby and Megan. The story begins in medias res, with Henry Dunbar in a care home somewhere outside Manchester, telling the story of how he was betrayed by his two power-hungry daughters, and how he regrets betraying his other, loyal daughter, Florence, by cutting her out of the trust.

While it doesn't follow King Lear to a T, it really only ever deviates by omission. (The subplot with Edgar and Edmund isn't really present at all.) But where it zeroes in on the relationship between Lear and his daughters, Dunbar is an extremely literal retelling. I mean, Regan is actually called Megan. On the one hand, it was done very well, and on the other, there wasn't a whole lot left to the imagination.

Interestingly, one facet of Lear that I thought went unexplored in Dunbar is actually one of its most salient themes: the fraught balance between fate and chaos - how much of our human nature is free will and how much is predetermined by planetary influence? The passages in which Henry Dunbar grapples with his 'madness' I thought were some of the weakest, and they really missed the opportunity to delve into this theme. Instead, this is a very stripped down King Lear, which ostensibly focuses on the reconciliation between Dunbar (Lear) and Florence (Cordelia). It was well done in its own right, but I couldn't help wanting more out of this story.

Dunbar was also my first encounter with Edward St. Aubyn, who admittedly I hadn't even heard of before now, but I have to say that for the most part I was impressed. His writing is lively and clever; I was awed by his intelligence on more than one occasion. I'll readily admit that as someone with essentially zero knowledge of the stock market, a lot of the details of this book went right over my head - but St. Aubyn still kept me engaged, with stakes that consistently felt high even when some of the details escaped me.

Bottom line (insofar as I am able to give a bottom line when I'm as conflicted as I clearly am about this book): as a novel in its own right, Dunbar was strangely riveting and stimulating. As a King Lear retelling, it left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, I did really enjoy reading this, and was fully prepared to give it 4 stars until its overly hasty conclusion, which unfortunately left me dissatisfied. 3.5 stars, rounded down.

Thank you Netgalley, Hogarth, and Edward St. Aubyn for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
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