Bookcover Matt Haig Dead Fathers Club

Disturbing and at times darkly humorous, Dead Fathers Club is a grittily and sometimes gorily real portrayal of a young boy struggling to maintain his sense of right and wrong as the adults around him fail him time and time again. Philip, an immature eleven-year-old growing up in Newark, has his very average world ripped apart when his father is killed in a traffic accident and his mother rapidly succumbs to the dubious attractions of oily Uncle Alan. His father’s ghost, who no-one but Philip can see or hear, rides to the rescue, offering Philip a way of ‘saving’ his mother and assuring his father of eternal rest and peace. But, bullied at school and neglected at home, Philip is increasingly torn between his sense of right and wrong and loyalty to his father: he is manipulated further and further into a mental and behavioural decline.

This isn’t a bad book: Haig has a good story to tell, but he delivers it with a workmanlike detachment that offers little to engage the reader. An initially engaging style, if one can get over the mildly pretentious tone, the story becomes increasingly and wretchedly predictable. Leah, the serene and slightly mystical centre of Philip’s awakening sexuality, provides some light relief but is left undeveloped as other, less interesting, characters take centre stage. My main reaction to this book was ambivalence: it’s good, but not that good and mildly derivative with strong reminders of the numerous stories of troubled childhood which seem to fill the bookshops at the moment. If that genre of fiction appeals to you, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, or We Need to Talk about Kevin are both much better. Dead Fathers Club is a depressingly sad picture of modern childhood in a world where everyone seems to believe that something has gone wrong. Pity the reader who takes it too seriously.

Read and Reviewed in 2008

© Jessica Mulley 2008, 2014