by Darla Crist, Writing Center Coordinator
The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig
“To be or not to be” is the question raised by Shakespeare through Hamlet, one of the Bard’s most troubled and fascinating characters. In The Dead Fathers Club, Matt Haig asks his readers to consider what might have happened if the ghost of Hamlet’s father had been more persistent in haunting his son. With this twist to the story in mind, the question becomes more of what happens once “to be” is no longer an option for fathers. As in Hamlet, Haig’s novel revolves around a bereaved and possibly unstable son (Phillip Noble, age 11) whose father (a British pub owner) dies under suspicious circumstances (his car crashes into the river). And, as in Shakespeare’s play, there is an uncle (an auto mechanic in Haig’s story) ready to usurp the father’s place, not only as “king” of the pub circuit, but as paramour to Phillip’s mother. In terms of technique, Shakespeare fans will wonder how Haig will manage the ending to this novel; after all, who is left standing at the end of Hamlet? In addition, contemporary riffs on the work of Shakespeare are not always worth the effort of reading them. But The Dead Fathers Club is highly imaginative and Haig’s thoughtful contemplation of the grief process and the predicaments the dead leave behind can make even the most hardcore Shakespeare fan forgive him for reading between and beyond the lines of the play.