Throughout his life, Winston Churchill famously complained about being hounded by the "black dog of depression." And now, in Rebecca Hunt's debut novel, we get to meet that dog. His name is Black Pat, but he also answers to Mr. Chartwell (named for Churchill's house). He is 7 feet high when standing on his hind legs, exceedingly polite and well-spoken (he is, after all, British), highly intelligent, sometimes ominous, sometimes playful -- and, on occasion, oddly flirtatious.

He shows up on a July morning in 1964 at the front door of one Esther Hammerhans, hoping to rent a room in her house. He is there because he needs easy access to Churchill, who is about to resign from Parliament. But as the story unfolds, it is clear that he also has his eye on Esther, who is grieving the recent death of her husband, Michael.

Hunt's highly original novel delicately reveals how Black Pat insinuates himself into Esther's life through flattery, criticism and pushiness, cutting her off from her friends, isolating her in her grief. Through this, Hunt exposes the contrary seductiveness of depression -- that growing sense that nobody understands you, that you are all alone in this strange world (and, indeed, Black Pat can be seen and heard only by the people he is gunning for).

In the end, it comes down to strength -- Black Pat's enormous, wily strength against the unexpected, occasional strength of Esther, bolstered by her few but steadfast friends. "Mr. Chartwell" has its dark moments, but it is also hopeful, funny and wise.