Book Review: Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn

Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn

Hogarth Shakespeare is taking the Bard’s classic stories and updating them for modern readers. I loved Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (The Tempest) and New Boy by Tracy Chevalier (Othello). Dunbar is a recent offering, retelling King Lear in light of cutthroat capitalism and private wealth.

Here, the eponymous king takes the form of Henry Dunbar, influential media magnate and wealthy beyond all reason. When Dunbar decides he is tired of the responsibility of his position, he hands the company over to his two eldest (and amoral and psychotic) daughters, Abigail and Megan. The two promptly stick dear old dad in a remote insane asylum and plot to gut the company and squeeze its corpse for cold hard cash. With the help of an alcoholic former comedian and his youngest daughter, Florence (written out of the will for rejecting the Dunbar wealth), Henry Dunbar must struggle back into the “real” world to save his Empire.

This reimagining of Shakespeare’s tragedy is perfect in this day and age. Henry Dunbar is not someone to admire. He is temperamental, vicious, and (as a comedian whose name I cannot recall once said) “ruin the oceans rich.” Basically, he is someone who has never had to consider the lives and views of others until suddenly everything is taken away from him and he himself is below consideration. By the time we meet him, he is struggling to extricate himself from the hell his daughters have left him in, and he is more a figure of pity, not necessarily because of redemption in his narrative, but in the bringing low of a human being.

This is a tragedy, and if you’re familiar with the original, there will be few surprises in store. Instead, St. Aubyn has concentrated his efforts on bringing us a fable about the hazards of greed, and the value of things which money cannot buy.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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