This book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series. I previously reviewed Chevalier’s New Boy from the series. It was a FANTASTIC take on Othello. A year or so ago, I read Atwood’s spin on the Tempest , Hag-Seed, but didn’t really care for it. Dunbar is St. Aubyn’s retelling of King Lear and I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it. My general reaction to most of it was… “What just happened?!”
St. Aubyn focuses pretty much exclusively on the dysfunctional family theme here. Henry Dunbar is an 80-year-old billionaire business mogul who hasn’t exactly been the best father to his three daughters. He shuns his youngest daughter when she decides to live her own life outside of the family business, and dangles the corporate carrot above the heads of his two eldest daughters who work for the company. The eldest daughters, tired of waiting for dear old dad to either die or retire, attempt to hasten the process by having Henry placed into an institution and declared unstable.
It’s a pretty basic modern take on Lear, but the depravity of the daughters goes a wee bit off the rails here. The sadism of one of the daughters in particular is distracting and rather than adding anything to propel the story, it smacks you right out of the narrative. While Shakespeare’s Lear can lend itself to a bit of meandering as the old man stumbles around lost, both geographically and in thought, this book seemed to get mired in it. The repetitious scenes with Dunbar interspersed with the crazy shit the daughters were doing resulted in a messy plot. In some ways, I think that St. Aubyn tried to stay too close to the original plot progression but with wildly unhinged characters and lost the plot as a result.