Tuesday, 4 October 2016
Book Review - Himself by Jess Kidd
'When Mahony returns to Mulderrig, a speck of a place on Ireland's west coast, he brings only a photograph of his long-lost mother and a determination to do battle with the lies of his past.
No one - living or dead - will tell Mahony what happened to the teenage mother who abandoned him as a baby, despite his certainty that more than one of the villagers knows the sinister truth'
Make a note right now of Jess Kidd's name because I predict this is one debut author destined for great things. Himself is an extraordinary book, a melting pot of different genres that combine to form something truly special. Kidd is able to use words to create a symphony, there were passages so beautifully written I had to read them again.Himself is a book that manages to be funny, dark, magical, brutal, tender and tense. The book opens with a prologue, it is 1950 and a young mother is viciously murdered before her killer turns his attention to her infant son. However, the baby is nowhere to be seen... Most of the action in the subsequent story takes place in 1976, with occasional flashbacks to the past. The 'Himself' of the title is Mahoney who has returned to Mulderrig, a tiny village in Ireland and the place of his birth to discover the truth about what happened to his mother, Orla. Mulderrig may be small but it is filled with vibrant characters - both living and dead. Jess Kidd's writing is so brilliant because she not only tells an intricate, thrilling tale but she has also created an unforgettable cast, from Mahoney himself, so handsome that, 'with looks like that, the fella is either a poet or a gobshite, with the long hair and the leather jacket and the walk on it.’ to Bridget Doosey, housekeeper for the vicarage although she 'holds no truck with the relentless drudgery of housework or the moral authority of Catholic priests. She sees both as unnecessary evils but stalwartly continues in her employment in order to support her roving pride of felines. And believing in honesty, Bridget will tell anyone who listens that she is daily destroyed with the effort of being polite to Father Quinn, who, after all, is nothing but a gobdaw in a black suit.' and best of all, Mrs Cauley, an octogenarian former actress who spends most of her days in her bed surrounded by her dusty labyrinth of books and with Johnnie, the ghost of her fiance always nearby. Mrs Cauley may be ancient but she is cunning, sharp-witted and resourceful. She comes up with a plan to find out what happened to Orla, ' And to our investigation.’ Mrs Cauley downs her drink in one, her eyes hardly watering. She grins, wickedly. ‘And to the straight-up joy of getting Mulderrig’s bollocks in a twist.’'
You'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a whimsical story set in a place akin to Glocca Morra but Mulderrig is a far darker place. This is a place of illicit sex and brutal murders, a village where a young woman's disappearance is ignored because she was considered a troublemaker, a place where the spirits are angry and will have their say. I absolutely loved the magical realism in Himself, for me it raised an already superb story into something unique and unforgettable. From the spring that appears in the library of the parochial house (where a 'thick layer of frogs seethe in heathen ecstasy where the hearthrug used to be.') to the priest who haunts a commode to the portents - soot pouring out of fireplaces, spiders, rats, badgers and voles running amok through the village - Himself is a completely wonderful mix of a compelling, often bleak mystery, a poignant story of needing to understand, of learning to trust and to love, and a completely bonkers (in a good way) supernatural tale with elements of myth and folklore.
There is a tempting suggestion near the end that there may be more to come from Mulderrig, I hope I'm right but in the meantime I urge you to read this book. Jess Kidd has written a book that will stay with me for the longest time, I can't wait to read more.
My thanks to the author and publishers for my advance copy, received through Netgalley in return for my honest review.
Himself is published by Canongate and will be released in the UK on 27th October.