Book review: Himself

Jess KiddI loved this book from the first page. It defies pigeonholing: at once a literary crime thriller, a fond comic tale of an Irish village, an investigation of long-buried secrets of murder and illegitimacy. Jess Kidd is a refreshing new voice, I don’t remember enjoying a debut novel this much since Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites though the two books are completely different.

In 1976 Mahony walks into the village of Mulderrig, seeking the truth of his birth twenty-six years earlier. From the forest around the village, and the houses within it, the dead walk out to greet him. They are a silent cast throughout the book, do they hold the answer to the mystery?

Kidd has created a village which feels alive, filled by a cast of characters so clearly drawn, and which swirls between the horrific beating of a nurse, downright nastiness, belly laughs and hallucinogenic drugs. The cast includes a pinched, controlling priest; a wizened old actress who organizes the village play from her wheelchair; a bogeyman who reputedly lives in the forest; and a pub landlord who tries to court the Widow Farelly, a nurse who has the sourest disposition visible to everyone except him. Mahony grew up in a Dublin orphanage, knowing only that he was left there as a baby with a letter marked ‘For when the child is grown’. What he reads in this letter sends him to Mulderrig to find out what happened to his mother, Orla, in 1950.

Did she disappear, running away to a better life, as most of the villagers tell him; or was she murdered? And why was she so hated by her neighbours?

As Mahony, Bridget Doosey, Shauna Burke and the indefatigable Mrs Cauley investigate his origins, the true nastiness of the village emerges.

If you like ‘Himself’, try these other Irish authors:-
‘A History of Loneliness’ by John Boyne
‘Ghost Moth’ by Michele Forbes
‘Butterfly Barn’ by Karen Power
‘Himself’ by Jess Kidd [UK: Canongate] Buy at Amazon

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A book which defies pigeonholing: HIMSELF by @JessKiddHerself #bookreview via @SandraDanby