A reimagining of one of Shakespeare's most well-read tragedies, by the contemporary, critically acclaimed master of domestic drama
Henry Dunbar, the once all-powerful head of a global media corporation, is not having a good day. In his dotage he hands over care of the corporation to his two eldest daughters, Abby and Megan, but as relations sour he starts to doubt the wisdom of past decisions.
Now imprisoned in Meadowmeade, an upscale sanatorium in rural England, with only a demented alcoholic comedian as company, Dunbar starts planning his escape. As he flees into the hills, his family is hot on his heels. But who will find him first, his beloved youngest daughter, Florence, or the tigresses Abby and Megan, so keen to divest him of his estate?
Edward St Aubyn is renowned for his masterwork, the five Melrose novels, which dissect with savage and beautiful precision the agonies of family life. His take on King Lear, Shakespeare’s most devastating family story, is an excoriating novel for and of our times – an examination of power, money and the value of forgiveness.
In St. Aubyn's retelling of King Lear, Canadian media mogul Henry Dunbar finds himself drugged and imprisoned in a sanatorium somewhere in deepest, darkest Cumbria by his two pernicious elder daughters and their sycophantic celebrity doctor. The monstrous girls intend a hostile takeover of their father's empire. (Their younger sister, Florence, has denounced this empire, and Dunbar has, in turn, disinherited her.) After duping his nurses into thinking he's swallowed his meds, Dunbar regains his wits just enough to escape from the sanatorium with the help of a fellow inmate, an entertaining, drunken fool named Peter. But Peter is caught, and there ensues a race among sisters, friends, and enemies to find Dunbar as the old man stumbles away through the countryside in a storm. St. Aubyn (the Patrick Melrose novels) eliminates or cleverly amalgamates characters from Shakespeare's original, glossing over the messy political intrigue of the play's middle parts. He concentrates on Dunbar's suffering and inner conflict as he confronts his own demise and realizes his mistake in rejecting the love of the principled Florence. The end of this contemporary version is abrupt and unsatisfying, but the tale is the perfect vehicle for what this author does best, which is to expose repellent, privileged people and their hollow dynasties in stellar prose.