Book review: The Hoarder

Jess KiddPart crime-mystery, part mystical ghost story, The Hoarder, the second novel by Jess Kidd, is difficult to define. Maud Drennan is an irreverent Irish carer who has been assigned the unholy task of bringing order to the life of Cathal Flood, a cantankerous old man who lives with his cats in a decrepit house surrounded by piles of rubbish. The previous carer who did Maud’s job, was run off the scene. Amongst the piles of junk, though, are ghosts of Cathal’s past, clues to the disappearance of one maybe two women, and traps for Maud to fall into.

This is at times a bewildering smorgasbord of imagery and description, there were times when I wanted to shout ‘give me a breather’ but the humour of Maud kept me reading. There are some giant character arcs to work through, both Maud and Cathal change and change again, not to mention Maud’s glorious cross-dressing neighbour Renata. To add to the merry-go-round of confusion, Maud is followed around in her daily life by a collection of ghosts, Irish saints that she learned about in a childhood book. Each saint passes comment on Maud’s actions adding a hilarious Greek Chorus effect to the story. Maud, egged on by the agoraphobic Renata, starts to look for ways of breaching the walls of rubbish which Cathal has built around himself and his private section of his old home, Bridlemere. When she does creep through, she encounters a dusty spooky world of collectibles, automata and gruesome collections which add to the feeling that secrets are hidden somewhere in the house.

The action steps up a gear when Maud’s predecessor Sam Hebden, the carer hounded off the property by Cathal, reappears. As well as flirting with Maud, he simultaneously encourages and discourages her from her detecting. Clues appear after dreams or apparitions, at times I was unclear, and Maud stumbles onwards unsure who to trust. Cathal may be old, but he is also cunning, clever and warm. When a man turns up claiming to be Gabriel Flood, Cathal’s son, the old man protests he is a villain. There is also a rather unpleasant case manager, Biba Morel. Quite a lot of the time, I didn’t know who to believe. The story is set in London but Maud’s strong Irish voice could lead you to think you are in Ireland.

So, this is a crime mystery that is not really about a crime, rather it is about Cathal and Maud and how their pasts cannot be ignored. Cathal, who tries to barricade himself in his house, away from modern life; and Maud, who is haunted by the childhood disappearance of her sister; are both characters adrift. I loved Kidd’s debut, Himself and enjoyed The Hoarder though I wish the frenetic storytelling could be toned down a notch or two.

Read my review of Kidd’s Himself.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Good People’ by Hannah Kent
‘Elizabeth is Missing’ by Emma Healey
‘The Ghost of Lily Painter’ by Caitlin Davies

‘The Hoarder’ by Jess Kidd [UK: Canongate]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE HOARDER by @JessKiddHerself #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-36p via @SandraDanby