The Dead Fathers Club: Reviews

MEDIA REVIEWS

Listen to the NPR radio review HERE.

Haig cleverly reinvents this 400-year-old tragedy as a 21st-century morality tale inhabited by schoolchildren, barmaids and mechanics, and it’s fun to look for the parallels between the two works. . . The story’s greatest strength, however, is Philip’s perspective as narrator. Haig effectively runs Philip’s words and thoughts together with an economy of punctuation, spliced with details that a child would notice, to create the voice of an anxious child. . . The Dead Father’s Club has much to recommend it, especially in how it shows the adult world through the eyes of an innocent. . . . It’s still the dark tale of Hamlet, perhaps more disturbing because it is related by an adolescent. It’s ingenious. Susan Kelly, USA Today

Philip is a breathless storyteller who seldom stops for punctuation but whose honesty and innocence, which shine from every sentence, are utterly captivating and heartbreakingly poignant. The result is an absolutely irresistible read. Booklist (starred review)

We now owe another debt to Shakespeare, and one to Haig, for re-imagining a tragic masterpiece with such wit, force and – yes – originality. Kirkus Review (starred review)

The plucky hero impressively navigates the gloomy, pungent waters of retribution, death and guilt, and Haig gives an enviable job of leavening a sad premise through the words and actions of a charming, resilient young man. Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Totally engrossing. Stephen Daldry, director of Billy Elliot and The Hours, (The Observer)

Matt Haig’s extraordinary second novel pushes and pulls at Shakespeare’s play, pokes and prods at it in such a way that only half the fun is to be found in spotting the parallels. The story is so surprising and strange that it vaults into a realm all of its own . . . most of all it allows Haig to indulge his innocently acute eye for detail and his delightfully weird imagination. One’s heart goes out to a boy torn between a selfish ghost (“If you ever loved me . . . “) and a foolish mother, and one naturally fears for him, knowing the fate of the first Hamlet. But Haig borrows from Shakespeare in the same spirit that Shakespeare borrowed from his own sources. One is never sure where the story is going next, and that’s what makes the book such sad fun. Gerard Woodward, The Guardian

What makes this work effective is that the narrative captures the anxiety of a timid boy, ridiculed by everyone, who must decide whether and how to kill his charismatic uncle. Hamlet never faced such difficulties. Recommended. Library Journal

Haig’s update of Hamlet is clever, and Philip’s narration nicely captures a studied, Haddonesque naïveté. Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly

. . . Haig does an excellent job of evoking his troubled, fumbling protagonist, and his second novel manages to be both darkly comic and a painful, touching account of bereavement. James Stuart, The Guardian

Matt Haig allows us to see through Philip Nobel’s eyes and we share his experiences … In order to faithfully reconstruct this reality of extraordinary proportions … Haig uses all the techniques that the written page offers … The stylistic techniques, which are recreated faithfully in Italian by Paola Novarese (the translator), make us laugh and cry … It is difficult, almost impossible for us not to feel affection towards Philip Noble. Il Corriere della Sera

The Dead Fathers Club is poignant, funny, innocent, touching has an underdog and enough nasty undertones to please the most cynical mind – all of it written from a child’s perspective. . . This novel is both funny, surreal and at times full of very black humour: a fine piece of work by a talented and clearly imaginative young writer. * * * * Nick Ryan, Sunday Express

The Shakespearean roots of Haig’s book don’t force the plot into preordained directions. No characters are wasted; Leah, the Ophelia to Phillip’s Hamlet, emerges as a mysterious but moving force. One of the joys (for those familiar with Hamlet) is figuring out at what points Haig’s work diverges. Phillip is an unreliable narrator, but it isn’t until close to the ending that you begin to wonder just how unreliable. Maybe Uncle Alan isn’t such a bad guy … Haig does a great job of assuming the voice of an 11-year-old. The advantage of writing through a child’s eyes is that the events play themselves out in a less self-conscious way than, say, an account of adult grief. Through Phillip, and the struggles Phillip has with his father’s ghost, we see the cruelty of death, the desire to make sense out of an nonsensical event. “The Dead Fathers Club” is full of funny moments, but the ending reveals the dark heart of Hamlet’s story.Reyhan Harmanci, San Francisco Chronicle

A breathless see-saw between indecision and drama, between dark comedy and poignancy. Utterly compelling to its unpredictable climax, you won’t want to come up for air. Eve Magazine

Humorous and original. This is one of those crossover books like The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time which will appeal to adults and children alike. Carla McKay, Daily Mail

This loose reworking of Hamlet is full of poignant insights and literary in-jokes, plus the author does a nice line in grim hilarity. Easy Living

Touching, quirky and macabre. S Magazine, Sunday Express

Tempering the tragedy with a deftly comic touch, Haig combines a compelling mixture of psychological insight and pre-adolescent angst in this strikingly original tale. The Big Issue

In Haig’s magnificent updating of Hamlet, Philip, an English schoolboy, must decide whether to listen to the ghost of his father and to murder the uncle who is making the moves on his mother. . . . Haig’s prose is light and humorous and sprinkled with allusions to the Bard, even as his topic turns dark and menacing. Arsen Kashkashian of The Boulder Book Store, Colorado store (Book Sense) in the Seattle Post

If Hamlet were 11, he might write this. What I liked about this book, The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig, is that although it’s what they call an adult novel it is written just like an 11-year-old kid talks. I am not English like the boy in the book, Philip Noble, and I am a little bit older – 12 – but I can understand him very well. . .It’s good and it doesn’t sound like a grown-up trying to be a kid . . . Roger K Miller, Philadelphia Inquirer

I’m not a natural fan of authors who refuse to use apostrophes but Matt Haig’s Hamlet-esque Dead Fathers Club, narrated by an 11-year-old, somehow gains piquancy from it. This is the story of Philip, whose late dad appears as a ghost and tells the boy that he was murdered by Uncle Alan. Philip must now avenge him by killing Uncle Alan. And he has to do it before his father’s birthday in a few weeks, otherwise Dad’s ghost will be condemned to haunt the pub car park forever. Phil Hogan, The Observer

Matt’s writing style is unusually down-to-earth and he prides himself on penning novels that appeal to different generations. Grant Woodward, Yorkshire Evening Post

Told through the eyes of 11-year-old Philip, this is a hilarious yet moving novel. * * * * Closer

There’s no doubting the inventiveness and imagination at work here and Philip’s desperately confused emotions are drawn with great sympathy and conviction. Tina Jackson, Metro

The yarn is spun in the authentic contemporary words of a pre-pubescent, telling us that his pub landlord father has died in a road accident, and his mother is succumbing to the greasy charms of her dead husband’s brother, Uncle Alan. . . Hilariously funny, it is also extremely dark. . .You will either love it or hate it, but it would be a challenge not to be affected by it. Jackie Butler, Western Morning News

It’s a playful manhandling of Hamlet, and it works: The more you read, the more captivating it becomes. Philip is funny, vulnerable and resolute as he tries to shake off his grief and save his beloved dad from the Terrors and his mom from Uncle Alan. We suspect the Bard would be pleased. Anne Stephensen, The Arizona Republic

astoundingly authentic. . . East Bay Express

Kept me in a state of tension throughout The Bookseller

The story of Hamlet is not usually thought of as one meant for laughter. But Matt Haig’s able retelling of the tale in The Dead Fathers Club will make you laugh, though it might also evoke a tear. . . There are many encounters with other Dead Fathers in a great sendup of ghostly dealings, Hamlet-like, on the moors, and several sly references to the play. There is even a character named Dane. The ending is not pure Shakespeare, but it is pure Haig and that is very good indeed. Valerie Ryan, Amazon.com editorial review

Philip, who pours out his story in a style unhindered by punctuation or the rules of grammar, is an immensely likeable character. Spending 300-pages seeing through his innocent and honest eyes as he relates his tragically-comic story is an experience not to be missed. His story is actually more tragic than anything Hamlet had to deal with. In fact, my overwhelming urge on finishing The Dead Fathers Club was to apologize to Philip for laughing at his predicament, but it is impossible not to as Haig has a keen eye for the blackly comic.Bookbrowse

This is an amazing and imaginative update of Hamlet . . . Haig does a fabulous job of exploring the psyche of an eleven-year-old boy. He takes serious situations and makes them come across with humor and a full range of other emotions. The Dead Fathers Club is a refreshing and modern tale of grief and revenge – and also a definite must-read. Curled Up.com

Matt Haig’s prose is quirky, with no apostrophes, liberal use of capital letters, and some creative typesetting. He captures Philip’s young voice with its innocence and acceptance of a new reality. . . Haig has a deft descriptive touch. A church “smelt of God which is the smell of old paper.” When Philip reluctantly answers Uncle Alan, “In an invisible ice cube out of my mouth I said Yes.”. . . a poignant, original, often charming story of a boy struggling in sorrow and misery with all his heart. Marilyn Dahl, Shelf Awareness

Lovers of Hamlet will savor The Dead Fathers Club. . .The Dead Fathers Club, at heart, is the wrenching story of a boy who can’t cope with his father’s death. He is 11 years old and powerless, not a prince with infinite charisma, and still the ghost keeps demanding that he show vindictive bravery. That Haig lets the problem overwhelm the boy so relentlessly gives the book its haunting power. . . The Hamlet-sized story doesn’t crush the innocent telling. In fact, in places, youth refreshes the older vision. . .in a climax in which Philip seems to overhear himself, he muses: “Dads are just men who have babies but I know he loved me because I felt it go out of me when he crashed. It was like air or blood or bones or something that made me me and it wasnt there any more and I had only half of it now and I didnt know if that was enough.” That last beautiful clause — “I didn’t know if that was enough” — achieves understanding while still preserving ambivalence. Its eloquence is hemmed tightly with doubt and fear. He is right: We never know if we have what it takes to make it through, and circumstances have forced him to learn this too young. It is irresistible to wonder if Haig chooses the protagonist’s age not only for its inherent vulnerability but also because another Hamlet–Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet — died at the age of 11. If so, “The Dead Fathers Club,” a tale of grief, holds a posthumous mirror up to the Bard, and offers him empathy. Todd Shy, News & Observer, Raleigh

This is a first novel with incredible promise. I received an advanced readers’ copy of this retake on the Hamlet story and have been reading it faster than the bodies piled up in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. Mike Ashworth’s must-reads for 2007, EC/DC

The hilarious tale is full of poignant insights into the strange workings of the world seen through the eyes of a child. Hull Daily Mail

A clever adaptation of Hamlet, with the characters mirroring their Shakespearian counterparts. Liz Taylor, Booksellers’ Choice, The Bookseller

. . . the book leads to a conclusion as tumultuous and powerful as Hamlet’s. While that might sound like exaggerated praise, it’s remarkable how Haig transforms the melancholic prince into a kid, the Danish court into a blue-collar inn and a schoolyard full of brats, the prince’s failed romance into a nearly asexual friendship with all the force of love. Genre fans should also be satisfied, for there’s more of the supernatural here than in the original: multiple ghosts from various eras, trapped in horrors not quite as absolute as fate.Faren Miller, Locus Magazine

[An] elegant little farce Glasgow Herald 

Clever and delightful. http://www.whatnottoread.com

at times funny, dark and very sad. . .The author expertly navigates through the murky waters of pre-teen life with scenes that ring true to life. And the first-person narrative by the young protagonist offers incredible insight into a boy’s life after his father dies.
Haig uses skewed typography, all-capitalized words and no punctuation (besides periods, that is) to mimic the young boy’s stream-of-consciousness and mental reasoning. . . This is Haig’s American literary debut, and he does it with wit and imagination.Angie Blackburn, The Post and Courier

Plot in a nutshell: This is a British hip-hop retelling of Hamlet, an effort you may not have realized you needed until you see it. Author reminds me of: Dave Eggers. Best reason to read: If he weren’t so literary, Haig could have a future in the gothic world. His scenes with Dads Ghost are genuinely frightening — and they’re interspersed with funny and poignant insights of adolescent love and loss.
Dan Whipple, Rocky Mountain News

. . . in the capable hands of Matt Haig, this knock-off works . . .
While the HAMLET connection is never lost, Haig takes the story in a direction all his own and the reader is compelled to go along for the ride. Matt Haig is a writer whose work I’ll be tracking down as it comes out. P.J. Coldren, Reviewingtheevidence.com

Matt Haig’s second novel leaps off the page with startling effect . . .The story is quirky and, despite obvious plot similarities to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it is highly original… with action and incident on virtually every page. Andy Smart, Nottingham Evening Post

You know a book is a good one when you do not want to put it down and everything else in your life – including the washing up – has to wait. . . It is a superb book, quite different from any I have read before, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I shared it with my 16 year-year-old daughter and she got so absorbed in it she even abandoned her normal television soaps – a compliment indeed. . . . It’s a winner.Newark Advertiser

Cleverly constructed narrative convinces the reader that this is a young child relating, explaining and describing both major and trivial incidents in his life. If you enjoyed The Sixth Sense you’ll find this book compulsive reading. It offers some pertinent observations about the human condition . . . be prepared for a highly dramatic conclusion.
John Weller, Reader’s Pick, Hull Daily Mail

Most entertaining are Philip’s chums, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern equivalents, Ross and Gary. Philip’s exchanges with these interchangeable comic twins are brilliant pitched in adolescent speak . . . [Haig] is also interested in how language breaks down, and frequently his verbal dexterity is at once disorientating and enlightening . . . In his boyishness, Philip shows an all too apparent weakness that very effectively, and often poignantly, exposes the absurdity of revenge. As well as the influence of Roald Dahl in his narrator, Haig’s novel echoes Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time and like that work, this should hold similar appeal for adults and older children alike. . . There is a great deal to admire in his zippy writing, and as for the themes he explores so well, they’re as old as time itself. Johanna Thomas-Carr, City A.M

Where Matt Haig’s debut novel, The Last Family in England, was a superb reworking of Henry IV, Part I, Dead Fathers Club gives a gracious nod towards Hamlet. . . Matt Haig – one of the freshest talents in the UK at the moment – triumphs again. Steph Little, Brighton Argus

A SELECTION OF BOOK TRADE REVIEWS

The Dead Fathers Club is a wholly unusual reworking of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But the Hamlet parallels — complete with similar plot twists — are worked in so deftly that the reader never quite anticipates where the book will go next. Readers see the world, surprising and strange, through Philip’s eyes. It’s a tangled web of murder and lies, with a boy caught in the middle, trying to make sense of it all. The result is a confused yet perceptive narrator whose responses to the world he inhabits are darkly humorous and sometimes tragic. Haig’s novel reads at a breathless pace (assisted by the absence of commas and apostrophes), his first-person narrative credibly that of a young British boy who takes things at face value. The result is a mysterious and engrossing book for both older children and adults — neither of which will be able to put it down. The Barnes & Noble Review from Discover Great New Writers, Spring 2007 Selection

Dear Reader,
If I could jump out of this magazine right now and press one book into your hands, it would be Matt Haig’s wonderful and imaginative novel THE DEAD FATHERS CLUB. I loved it! I hate comparing books to others, but just to give you a quick feel for what this novel is all about, think The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime meets William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It works. . . What unfolds is a delightful and witty story about loss and growing up and finding your voice when so many obstacles are trying to silence you. I hope you take a chance on this book and if you love it, please tell your family and friends about it and start a wave of enthusiasm about one of the best – and most underappreciated – novels of 2007. Gary Jansen, Executive Editor, QPB

This is a very impressive novel; it’s being published as mainstream (and the Hamlet parallels throw it solidly into the literary-novel category rather than genre fantasy), but anyone with a passing familiarity with the plot of Hamlet could read it with great appreciation. Whatever you call it, it will be one of the major fantasy novels of 2007; it’s that good. Andrew Wheeler, senior editor at the Science Fiction Book Club

The Dead Father’s Club is the perfect choice for fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time…The story is a quirky little mystery and also a moving tale of how a young boy deals with a terrible loss. With narration by 12-year-old Andrew Dennis, winner of the BBC Audiobooks Young Voice of Bath competition in 2006, Highbridge Audio’s production of The Dead Father’s Club is spot-on.Linda Arrington Lusk, Ingram Auditor’s Pick Feb 07

This clever and poignant update of Hamlet will keep you in suspense until the last page! . . .The problem with reinterpreting Shakespeare is it’s difficult topping the Bard. When it fails, it fails miserably. But when it succeeds, like in this wildly imaginative novel, it opens your eyes to the new possibilities of literature! Mystery Guild America pick

A suspenseful — and funny — ghost story with a twist. Feb/March Showcase, Keplers

Books made out of other books are not a modern invention; Shakespeare adapted texts that were known in his time for his own plays. But in recent times, such parallel works and pastiches as Cold Mountain (following The Odyssey) and Jane Smiley’s new novel, Ten Days in the Hills, after the Italian epic The Decameron, have reworked the classics with a postmodern élan that seek to reinterpret what was as what is, for contemporary readers. Thus, Matt Haig’s unusual debut novel, The Dead Fathers Club, is Hamlet for a new age: told by a young boy named Philip Nobel whose father has died in a car accident, his father returns, “flickering” to life for only Philip’s eyes as Dads Ghost—no punctuation (as much of the novel as written)—to instruct him to take revenge on his Uncle Alan… And Haig’s writing style does much to emphasize the unreliable narrator (given that at one point the reader realizes that Dads Ghost and the flickering and the private conversations may not be a conceit but Philip’s own Hamlet-like neuroses): “When Dad died I believed it was all my fault. But I dont think that any more. You can believe what you want to believe. That’s what I think.” This is a marvel of invention (and reinvention). Steve Shapiro’s picks, Rainy Day Books – Fairway, KS

After The Bad News That His Dad Was Killed In A Car Accident, Imagine Philip Noble’s Surprise When Dad Appears @ The Funeral, With The ‘Dead Fathers Club’(All Murder Victims Themselves) In Tow, With Not Only The Identity Of His Killer But The Further Unwelcome News That It’s Up To Young Phillip, 11, To Avenge His Father’s Death, & Defend The Family From Future Attacks…BY WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY. The Quandry? Well, To Kill Or Not To Kill, Of Course! A Quirky, Light 1st Mystery (Haig’s First Novel To Be Released In The States) That, Despite Obvious Points Of Reference (HAMLET’S CURIOUS INCIDENT) Not Only Feels Original, But Has The Equally Rare Quality Of Being Enjoyable. Good Stuff. Tom’s favourites, JCA Books, NY 

In Haig’s imaginative, quirky update of “Hamlet,” 11-year-old Philip Noble is asked by his dad’s ghost to avenge his murder by Uncle Alan; but the boy realizes it’s a bigger job than he anticipated, especially when he is caught up by the usual distractions of childhood—girls, bullies, and his own self-doubt. Kay L. Grismer and Angie Tally for The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC

It’s compelling, ambiguous, and more surprising than you might think.Liz’s favourite, Mystery-Bookstore 

In his quixotic quest to avenge his father’s death, Phillip learns many life lessons: truth is relative, revenge is a big job and not painless, and love is worth fighting for. Haig’s novel is an unusual and often hilarious update of Hamlet … Julie, Book faves for Feb, Blue Willow Books, West Houston

Young Philip Noble wants to do what is right. Unfortunately, that means avenging his father’s death… With a bow to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and a nod to Donald Barthelme’s The Dead Father, this is Philip’s account of the ordeal told in the quirky style of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, unedited and fun, just like an eleven-year-old kid’s version should be. MW, Jan/Feb picks, Square Books Mississippi

What an amazing book! I practically wept. I really, really liked this book a lot. Amy Rosenfield, Joseph-Beth Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Cleveland

Funny, tragic (and very British), Matt Haig has written a delightful and poignant novel, told in the voice of an 11 year old boy who is trying to process the death of his father as he also endeavors to grow up. Full of surprising and intricate language as well as fascinating plot twists, this is a story for all types of readers. Karen Frank, Northshire Bookstore Vermont

We are already on our second full shipment of this terrific novel and we’re getting such great responses from the early readers. Very highly recommended. Rakestraw Readers Recommend – the Best in New Books 

THE AUDIO BOOK REVIEWS (narrated by 12 year old, Andrew Dennis)

Narrators are generally a versatile lot. But there are limits
Gender isn’t too much of a problem. But youth is, especially for a male. A woman can imitate a young voice fairly easily, but few men can regress to a time before their voices changed.

So when producer Paul Ruben was pondering who should narrate a story told in the voice of an 11-year-old boy, he went for the real thing.
The problem was, how do you find someone? Acting prodigies aside, how do you find a kid who can deliver a 7-hour narration of a book based on a Shakespearean play? And, oh yes, Ruben is American and the boy had to be British.

Turns out a British narrator and friend who had just judged a BBC-sponsored competition to find “the Young Voice of Bath” recommended the winner, Andrew Dennis, who just happened to be 12.

Lucky Ruben. On the audio version of Matt Haig’s novel, The Dead Fathers Club, Dennis is splendid. For starters, he’s a good reader. He’d have to be. But it’s so much more. Perhaps not surprisingly, he captures the essence of adolescence – confusion and excitability.Sandy Bauers, Philadelphia Inquirer 

5/5: After a car crash kills his father 11 year-old Philip Noble and his mum are beside themselves with grief. Luckily they’ve got Uncle Alan to console them and help run the family’s pub, the Castle and Falcon. Trouble is, dad’s ghost appears to Philip at the wake and informs the boy that it wasn’t an accident that killed him. It was Philip’s conniving Uncle Alan who messed with the car’s brakes. Alan, Dad says, is out to get his hands on the pub and on Philip’s saintly mum. Now because he’s been murdered he can’t move on into the afterlife until his murder is avenged by his son. The vendetta must be resolved before dad’s next birthday or else he’ll be condemned to the Dead Father’s Club, forever tormented by The Terrors. If this is beginning to sound like something you’ve maybe read before, well, think about Hamlet. There you go. But please don’t let that scare you. Haig’s version is ever-so-much better than Shakespeare’s (I’m not kidding). Told by Philip, the prose is as bright and perceptive as any eleven-year-old-going-on-forty can write. Even though I knew how the story might end, I was gripped by the humor and plot twists and, shucks, shear curiosity to see how it all comes out. Read it – better yet, listen to it. The narrator, Andrew Dennis, is outstanding! Monday Night Book Club 

Something of a Hamlet for the 21st century, this audiobook presents Philip Noble, an 11-year-old boy whose father recently died in a car accident. But when his father returns as a ghost demanding revenge for his death, Philip must decide whether or not his Uncle Allan murdered his father. While grappling with the idea of murder, Philip must contend with all the typical stresses of adolescence including romance and bullys. HighBridge Audio’s decision to cast 11-year-old Andrew Dennis to read this novel pays off. His youthful voice adds authenticity and his narrative skills fully envelope the first-person perspective of Philip. He also ably distinguishes additional characters. His most impressive feat is the level of emotion and intensity he maintains through many of the scenes. Several times, Haig repeats a word or phrase more than five times. In the text, this works because readers can skim, but listeners must hear each one. However, Dennis infuses different emphasis for each repeated word, making it work. Publishers Weekly