The Dead Father’s Club Summary

Matt Haig

The Dead Father’s Club

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The Dead Father’s Club Summary

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The Dead Father’s Club (2006) by Matt Haig is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in the modern day.

The novel opens on the day of the funeral for eleven-year-old Philip Noble’s father, Brian, who has died in a car accident. At the reception held at the family’s pub, the Castle and Falcon, Philip engages with several family members and is then suddenly visited by the ghost of his father. Philip refers to him as “Dad’s Ghost.” The ghost informs Philip that his death was not an accident, but rather a murder, committed by Alan, Philip’s uncle. The ghost claims that Alan cut the brakes on the car, causing the accident. The ghost suspects Alan wants both Philip’s mother and ownership of the pub. The ghost asks Philip to get revenge by murdering Alan, telling the boy that he is now part of the “Dead Father’s Club,” whose membership is composed of fathers who died unnaturally and are awaiting revenge. He tells Philip the story of Ray Goodwin, who was murdered and who told him how being a ghost works. He warns Philip that if his death is not avenged within three months, he will be subjected to the Terrors.

Philip tells his Mum about the ghost, but worrying that his father’s death has deranged him, she does not believe him. At school, bullies Dominick Weekly and Jordan Harper pick on Philip. He likes his teacher, Mrs. Fell, however, who turns out to be the daughter of none other than Ray Goodwin.

Philip meets Leah and is infatuated. She is the daughter of one of Alan’s business partners, and they begin to spend a great deal of time together. Leah’s mother died when she was a very young girl. Depressed, she bonds with Philip over their situations. Dad’s ghost does not approve of this relationship, but Philip ignores him. Leah likes to write things on her body; she writes their names on Philip’s arm and makes him promise to never wash it off.

At home, Alan begins spending more time with Philip’s mother. Philip discovers his prized tropical fish dead one day—boiled. He assumes Alan did this to intimidate him, but he cannot prove it. His father’s ghost appears to him at school, telling Philip he must steal a mini-bus to prevent Alan from breaking into the pub to further his plans to take the business for himself. Philip says he doesn’t know how to drive, but the ghost offers to teach him. They steal one of the mini-buses, but two teachers pursue them. In a panic, Philip drives too fast and crashes the bus. Philip learns that nothing happened to the Pub, and thus the ghost lied to him. His mother is called in for a meeting, but he is allowed to stay in school on the condition that he begins attending sessions with the school counselor.

The ghost shows Philip some poison he says could potentially kill Alan. Philip decides he must do as the ghost suggests, but he cannot actually do it. Deciding on a different approach, he sets fire to Alan’s car repair garage, hoping to trap Alan inside. However, Alan is not there—but Leah’s father is and dies in the fire.

Wracked by guilt over this, Philip decides he must confess to Leah. When he visits Leah, he finds her severely depressed and acting very strangely—she is delusional and her grasp on sanity is slipping due to the tragedy. As he is talking to Leah, he sees the ghost of her father, suddenly. Leah’s father tries to make Philip feel bad for the terrible things he has done. Philip seeks out Leah’s brother, Dane, telling him about the arson and his role in his father’s death. Angry, Dane produces a knife, threatening Philip. In the end, he does not hurt Philip but makes Philip promise not to tell Leah anything, as he worries it will break her.

Leah runs away and is missing. Philip seeks out the ghosts of his and her father, telling them they must help him locate her. They assist Philip and he tracks Leah to a bridge, where she is standing with the words “dead and gone” written on her arms in blood. Philip begs her not to jump, but she does. Philip jumps in after her and tries to save her, but the current overpowers both of them, and they are swept away.

Alan witnesses this, dives into the water with some of his workers, and saves Philip and Leah. Philip is in the hospital with Alan, who was severely injured in the rescue. Mrs. Fell visits Philip. He asks her about her father, and she tells him that Ray Goodwin wasn’t murdered, he died of a heart attack. Realizing that his father’s ghost has been lying to him, Philip resolves to not listen to the ghost anymore. Alan later dies of his injuries, and Philip is uncertain whether his father’s ghost was involved.