The Dead Fathers Club

By Matt Haig

3,666 ratings - 3.29* vote

A ghost story with a twist—a suspenseful and poignantly funny update of the Hamlet story.Eleven-year-old Philip Noble has a big problem: His dad, who was killed in a car accident, appears as a bloodstained ghost at his own funeral and introduces Philip to the Dead Fathers Club. The club, whose members were all murdered, gathers outside the Castle and Falcon, the local pub A ghost story with a twist—a suspenseful and poignantly funny update of the Hamlet story.Eleven-year-old Philip Noble

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Book details

Hardcover, 328 pages
February 1st 2007 by Viking Books

(first published 2006)

Original Title
The Dead Fathers Club
ISBN
0670038334 (ISBN13: 9780670038336)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Ian

I downloaded an audiobook version of this modern reworking of Hamlet, before subsequently reading that the book may have been intended for a “young adult” readership. If that’s the case, then at 58 I am definitely the wrong target audience! In one way my age does make a difference. I last did Hamlet at school 40 years ago and can only vaguely remember it. I suppose my reaction might have been different had I read it within the last few years.

Resetting Hamlet to the modern era comes with one big challenge – the story. I mean, in the original Hamlet, young man’s father dies; ghost of said father appears to young man and tells him he has been murdered by his brother - the boy’s uncle; boy’s uncle starts a relationship with boy’s mother; ghost tells young man to murder his uncle; young man accidentally kills others in trying to do so. It all works within the context of dynastic rivalry in 16th century Denmark, but try to reset that to the modern day UK and well, it’s all a bit bonkers. Incidentally if you feel I’ve given away spoilers, I can say that Matt Haig doesn’t stick entirely to the Hamlet story.

Wisely I think, the author sustains the bizarre events by throwing in a fair bit of humour across much of the story. The protagonist, Philip Noble, is a few years younger than the Hamlet of the original tale, allowing the author to present the story through the eyes of a confused child. However, the mood can’t be maintained in the last quarter, when things get a lot darker and there is a distinct tension with the earlier section of the book. Actually at this point I wondered whether I was going to write a review saying the book hadn’t succeeded for me, but it was saved by its ending, which gives the reader something to think about.

I think this is one I would have preferred to have read rather than have listened to. There are sections where Philip says the same words repetitively. That’s something young children do, and it would be OK to read, but on audio it can become irritating.

Badseedgirl

The conversation I would love to have with Matt Haig, author of The Dead Fathers Club.* We would be sitting in a small diner drinking our hot beverage of choice.

So I said “Hey.”
And He said “Hey, you wanted to talk.”
And I said “I just finished your book The Dead Fathers Club.
And He said “What did you think?”
And I said “I was a little underwhelmed.”
And He said “Why.”
And I said “The Dialogue was a little clunky.”
And He said “In what way?”
And I said “This style is tortuous to listen to and read.”
And He said “You know it was a YA adult book?”
And I said “Your point?”
And He said “This is how kids talk.”
And I said “Don’t know.”
And He said “Your right, you don’t know.”
And I said “But it’s so choppy.”
And he said “How many books have you written?”
And I said “Are you mad at me?”
And He said “A little.”
And I said “Why?”
And He said “Do you know how hard it is it write dialogue?”
And I said “No.”
And the waitress said “Would you folks like a refill?”
And I said “No.”
And He said “No.”
And the waitress said “Well, Ok. I’ll just leave the check.”
And He said “Thanks.”
And I Said “Thanks.”
And He said “Any more critiques, Ms. Smarty-pants?”
And I said “I did love your story.”
And He said “Oh really?”
And I said “Yes, just not the dialogue.”
And He said “Well Ok.”
And I said “I’m even going to read the only other book my library has.”
And he said “Oh, What one?”
And I said “The Radleys. Will I like it?”
And He said “Don’t know.”

*I of course have never met or spoke to Mr. Haig. I have no idea if this is an accurate portrayal of his as a person. Just saying.

Lucy Banks

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

A Hamlet retelling with a very fresh, thought-provoking perspective.

Okay, I'll admit - when I started reading this book, I initially released an internal groan. Not another Shakesepeare interpretation, I thought! What more can be said about Hamlet - the play that's been covered literally hundreds of times in previous works?

Well, as Matt Haig proves, there is a new angle to explore, and he explores it with real panache.

Phillip's Dad, a former pub landlord, has recently died in a car-crash. Except (like Hamlet's father), he's refusing to die quietly. Instead, he starts haunting Phillip, telling him that he's part of the 'dead father's club' - men who have been murdered and who are seeking vengeance.

Meanwhile, Phillip's mother is shacked up with Uncle Alan, who (you guessed it) is the one Phillip's dad claimed killed him. Phillip is in a whirl. He knows he must kill the man who murdered his father - the only question (to begin with) is how?

His girlfriend Leah is the only one who doesn't think he's a weirdo - until, of course, Phillip does something unspeakable to her father. What follows next is a potential recipe for tragedy - though with a rather different ending to the Shakespearean text (I won't give it away).

So here's what I LOVED about this book. We all know that Hamlet was the king of indecision, and that he may or may not have been mad. However, his state of mind is always a mystery, due to the perspective of the play. (The soliloquies, in my opinion, only reveal so much).

With Phillip, it's explored in much more detail - grief, resentment, inability to act, the sense of isolation - it's all there, in gloriously modern terms. What's also utterly magnificent is the possibility that the father's ghost doesn't exist at all - and that Phillip is suffering some sort of mental breakdown after losing a loved one. This puts a totally fresh spin on things, which I thought was really clever. It made me start wondering - what if that was the case in the original Hamlet? What if Claudius was actually totally innocent? Thought provoking stuff!

As with a lot of Matt Haig's writing, he manages to lay bare human emotion, and put it into relateable sentences.

My only minor niggle was that there were parts where I felt the boy's voice was a little 'young' for Year 7 (this is probably the ex-secondary school teacher in me, remembering what they're like at that age). However, this only jarred very slightly on occasion, and didn't bother me particularly. It's bloody hard writing from the perspective of a child, especially when covering high-impact, emotive issues!

I'd really recommend it - especially if you like the author's other books. A very good read indeed.

Neal

An update on the Hamlet story, this reads much like "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime" (I think that's right) with a yound narrator set to avenge his father's death at the hands of his uncle. And while that voice worked well for the autistic narrator of "Nightime" at times I felt this kid was really stupid for an 11 year old. Perhaps my standards are too high for preteens or perhaps he was just overwhlemed with grief, but that's not my point. Except it might be my point, because I think his stupidity was one of the things keeping me from truly embracing this story. And you might argue that was part of the point, that death and the real world is very confusing for kids, but I digress.

Haig has several clever ways to incorporate Shakespeare into his modern story, and I found myself frequently smirking at those scenes. But for some reason, I just never felt entirely compelled by this book. While it was a ridiculously easy read, I labored through it, never able to just dive in.

Rob

When it comes to religion I am, at best, apathetic.

I’ve never been much of a believer, although I’ve backed off on my staunch identification as an atheist – realizing eventually that that group’s smug certainty that there is no God is every bit as obnoxious as the holy rollers who proselytize and damn others to hell. I suppose that technically makes me an agnostic, but I think the most accurate description of my religious belief is “I don’t care.” I try to lead a good life, be kind to others, do more good than harm, etc., etc., and hope that, should there be an afterlife, that’ll be enough to stand me in good stead with the management.

The most fervently I’ve wanted to believe in an afterlife, though, came in 2011 after my mom died. Unlike her heathen son, my mom was a devout churchgoer – she and my dad were (and are, in my dad’s case) active in their local Episcopal church, and I knew that her religious faith is something that got her through those last difficult weeks. I wanted there to be an afterlife for her, but also for all the usual selfish reasons following the death of a loved one; chiefly, that I’d get to see her again one day. I can’t say I’ve clung to that desire with any tenacity, though. Three years on and I’m pretty much back where I started.

Matt Haig’s The Dead Fathers Club takes up the question of the afterlife in the form of a ghost story that, fittingly for a novel preoccupied with limbo or purgatory (I can never remember which is which), straddles the line between adult and Young Adult fiction. It exists in an uneasy middle ground that has – I think – more in common with the former than the latter, but which might be a little too sophisticated and bleak for younger readers.

Its closest comparison is probably something like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a book written for adults but which I know is taught in some high schools. Like that book, The Dead Fathers club features a young narrator – 11-year-old Philip – who is precocious and insightful, but who probably lies somewhere on the autism spectrum. His narration is often an unfiltered stream-of-conscious jumble of sights, sounds, and impressions, such as this passage that comes early in the book when his mother receives news of his father’s death:

And then they went into the office and shut the door and I could hear nothing for ages and then I heard Mum. She was howling like a WOLF and the noise hurt my stomach and I closed my eyes to try and hear the policeman and all he was saying was Im sorry and he kept on saying it

Im sorry

Im sorry

Im sorry

and I knew that he hadnt done anything wrong because he was a policeman and policemen only say sorry if something very bad has happened. So I knew right then what the pain in my stomach was. And I saw the policeman leave and the hat was in his hand but not on his chest any more like the Bad News had been in there and set free. And I saw Mum and she saw me but didnt see me properly and she went to the corner of the hall by the radiator and sat down in a ball and cried and shook her head in her hands and said No no no no no and everywhere round us looked the same but bigger and I wanted to go and tell her it was OK but that would have been a lie and so I just sat there and did nothing.

It’s shortly after this that the ghost of Philip’s father comes to him and says that his brother, Alan, murdered him by severing the brakes on his car. Along with this news, a few other things:

1) Not everyone can see ghosts, but if you do, they are the spirits of the murdered.

2) You have to avenge their death before their next birthday.

3) If you fail to do that, the ghost will remain an unsettled spirit forever.

Philip – who has enough trouble just getting through the school day – now has only a months to figure out how to kill his uncle and set his father’s spirit free. It’s convenient, though, that there’s a bit of a Hamlet situation going on, as Alan, who clearly has designs on Philip’s mother, moves into their home and tries to take over as Surrogate Dad.

For a character who engages in as much internal monologuing as Philip, there’s initially very little ambivalence over his mission. There’s no moralizing about whether it’s right to take Alan’s life, but maybe that makes sense. Life is simpler at 11: Philip loved his father, his father’s ghost says Alan must die, and so Alan must die. The problem, though, is that his father’s ghost – who at first appears to be omniscient and gifted with preternatural awareness – makes an increasing number of inaccurate predictions, some of which have disastrous consequences. And this brings Philip to a crossroads: Is his father an tortured spirit or just a spiteful douchebag? And if it’s the latter, is his death still worth avenging?

While I enjoyed Haig’s spin on the revenge tale, I actually found the most appealing part of the book to be Philip’s voice, especially the way he attempts to come to grip with the world around him. There are several gems throughout the book that might not be particularly insightful to adults, but which seem to perfectly capture the child’s evolving understanding of how the world works.

On his teacher trying to involve him with his peers by making him dance at a party: “Mrs Fell was only being nice because she thought I was on my own but sometimes being nice is as bad as being horrible.”

On the paradox of war and murder: “Its like how in War soldiers are told to kill other men and then they are Heroes but if they killed the same men when they were not in War they are Murderers. But they are still killing the same men who have the same dreams and who chew the same food and hum the same songs when they are happy but if it is called War it is all right because that is the rules of War.”

And this one especially, on, well, the nature of life itself: “I was thinking Mrs Fell was right. There are choices. You can listen to ghosts or you can not listen to ghosts and you can think what you want to think it is up to you because there are only two things that are true 100 out of 100 times and that is that you live and also that you die and every other thing is not true or false it is a mix. It is both. It is none.”

Philip’s voice is so strong and so engaging that it carries the reader through the book, even in those moments when the revenge plot is less interesting. The real surprise is the end, which is, in the immortal words of Spinal Tap, none more black. It ends on a decidedly dark note, one that unambiguously puts Philip at the center of everything bad that ultimately happens. It’s a curious – and curiously harsh – choice, and it’s probably the strongest argument that Haig hasn’t intended this to be a children’s book. Young Adult Lit typically ends optimistically – the young protagonist having overcome whatever challenges he/she faced to emerge victorious on the other side – but there’s no light at the end of the tunnel in the closing pages of The Dead Fathers Club. If there’s a bleak central thesis implied by the conclusion it’s that, on Earth or in the afterlife, there’s no way out for tortured spirits.

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Alice (Married To Books)

DNF @ Page 100

I've had this as ongoing reading since February. I do enjoy reading ghost stories, but I chose to DNF this one sadly for personal reasons. I respect Matt as a writer, he is very open about his mental health across his social medias which I respect, since this happened me to open up about my own experiences too. However, this is a story that at this time, I don't want to continue!

J.A. Ironside

3.5 stars rounded up. I love Matt Haig, I really do. This just isn't a favourite as far as his books are concerned. Actually I think it may have spoiled Hamlet for me a bit, which has always been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. It's a lot more visceral to have the story told you by an eleven year old boy who is struggling with his father's death, than a privileged and somewhat pampered twenty-something prince. It made me quite sad, which bizarrely Hamlet never has before. It's more likely to be something wrong with me...

Anyway, I can't deny that this has pitch perfect voice, the observations made by Philip were sharp and insightful but cadged in the terms and understanding of a child, and one in an impossible situation to boot. To achieve this voice a lot of grammar and punctuation is sacrificed for a fair wind. I'd like to say that this doesn't bring me out in hives and facial tics but I'd be lying. At least to this extent. Of course we are always firmly inside Philip's head who enjoys the selective solipsism of childhood which he hasn't fully grown out of, but he is hardly unaware of the consequences of his actions. Torn between his love for his mother and the desire for revenge from his father coupled with his panic disorder, my heart went out to him.

True to the source material this isn't exactly a boo with a happy ending, although peace of a kind is achieved at the last. Aside from voice, it's true genius lies in the way Haig manages to incorporate sections of Hamlet but so thoroughly disguised and integrated in this world that you have to be a real Hamlet fan to pick them out. My favourite of these was when Philip is essentially going through the famous 'to be or not to be monologue' in his head, questioning his own existence. For that alone I'd say give this a whirl. However be prepared for something that doesn't follow the well beaten track of literature.

Holly (spoopyhol)

‘Philip Noble is an eleven-year-old in crisis. 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. The remaining certainties of Philip’s life crumble away when his father’s ghost appears to declare that he was murdered.

Arming himself with weapons from the school chemistry cupboard, Philip vows to carry out the ghost’s relentless demands for revenge. But can the words of a ghost be trusted anymore than the lies of the living?’

Oh my word guys. This book is ASTOUNDING. I wasn’t expecting too much from the blurb but the blurb seriously underplays the book. It’s all written from the perspective of Philip and the formatting style reflects this - it’s as if you’re reading words that Philip himself has actually written. This gives off a massive feeling of unreliability within the narrator - and that sets the tone for the entire novel.

But then you find yourself questioning the reliability of everyone involved in the book. Can Philip be trusted? Can his father’s ghost be trusted? And I love that shit. I eat that shit up every time. Give me all of the unreliability and let me figure it out for myself.

But the book also follows Philip entering teenagehood and leaving his childish years behind. He’s pushed head first into maturing early because of the tragedy of losing his father so it’s interesting to see how he deals with school, romance, and his own mental health is seriously affected by it.

I won’t say much more because I don’t want to spoil any of the book but I do seriously recommended this to everyone!

Deirdre

This was on my booklist. I found this to be an entertaining book to listen on tape. The prose is comical. The point of view is amusing. It is indeed "more than a nod to 'Hamlet'," yet light. The narration was both charmingly well done. Unlike other Audio Books, my attention was never lost. I think in many ways if I had read this book, the tone would have felt repetitive and the narrator would have seemed darker. The book is fun for what it is. I suggest the audio cd over the book.

Louise

Wasn't keen on the lack of punctuation, particularly commas. It made the main character sound like a monotonous automaton. Seems to me a poor way to convey that the MC was only eleven. I also felt the ending was flat. Didn't ring my bell at all.

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