I have read both of Jess Kidd’s previous novels and I was delighted to interview her for NB issue #90 following the publication of her debut. It was this book “Himself” (2016) that I expressed a slight preference for – a novel set in 1970s Ireland which absolutely fizzled throughout although both books have been very strong. “The Hoarder” (2018) had a modern West London setting and like its predecessor combined a good mystery with vibrant language, colourful characterisation and a supernatural element.
All of these factors are present in her third novel, with its setting always of particular interest to me, Victorian England, yet it is not just for this reason that I think that Jess Kidd has written her best novel to date and all that potential she has shown up until now has come into fruition with this hugely entertaining novel.
Like all of Kidd’s main characters to date Bridie Devine can see ghosts but here it’s just one, a half-naked ex-boxer she encounters in a churchyard who remembers her from her past. This supernatural touch is something which obviously means a lot to the author and I felt in “The Hoarder” it did not work as well as it had in “Himself” but the pugilist Ruby is a great character and becomes Bridie’s sidekick on some private detective work.
A child has been kidnapped from a country house in Sussex but it is soon apparent that this is no ordinary child and a gallery of rogues, richly-drawn characterisations worthy of the best of Dickens, seem to be involved in her disappearance. Bridie enlists the help of her seven-foot maid Cora, the spectral Ruby and crossing-sweeper Jem to locate the child.
I do read quite a few of these gutsy Victorian set novels and I’m aware that when they are done well they are likely to feature in my end of year Top 10. The actual case within the novel recalled for me another female amateur detective Heloise Chancey in MJ Tjia’s series of novels but here with greater depth and the sheer vivacity of the language reminded me of Michel Faber’s “The Crimson Petal And The White” and (although set in late eighteenth century London) within its themes of “The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock” by Imogen Hermes Gower- both great favourites of mine, but this novel certainly has a life of its own.
I particularly like it when the history of a historical novel is incorporated seamlessly. Here we have the Victorian love of the unusual and freakish and the developments in medicine which attracted the honourable and the disreputable sitting beautifully in with what becomes a gripping mystery peopled with characters about whom I wanted to know so much more. I hope this novel will be the making of Jess Kidd and will get readers discovering both her other publications. The effervescence of her writing will stay with me for some time.
Things In Jars is published in hardback by Canongate on April 4th 2019. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.
Jess Kidd’s 2016 debut “Himself” attracted a lot of attention and was shortlisted for awards. I was of the opinion that it introduced us to an impressive new voice and I was delighted to interview her and have my review published alongside the interview in NB magazine Issue #90 when “Himself” was one of the featured titles. I thought the book fizzled with life, with its setting of an Irish village in the mid-1970s where the author introduced us to memorable characters in a mystery tale which seamlessly took in elements of magic and the supernatural.
With “The Hoarder” she has largely done it again and produced her second strong read. This time we are in present day West London where main character Maud Drennan has started work as an agency care-worker for Cathal Flood, a difficult elderly man and the hoarder of the title. It’s not just him thwarting Maud’s plans to put things in order as the supernatural draws the care-worker into a mystery involving a disappearance and a possible murder hidden deep within the secrets of the house.
As in “Himself” main character Maud is able to see ghosts but here they are a host of Saints who act as her spirit guides and I must admit that this aspect does not work as well for me as it did last time round. In “Himself” main character Mahoney was also aided and abetted by an unlikely side-kick, the wig-wearing Mrs Causley who memorably sees herself as “Miss Marple. With balls”. In this novel this role is taken by another unlikely candidate the wig-wearing, agoraphobic, transsexual Renata, who for me did not sparkle quite as much as her predecessor (but who could also fit Mrs Causley’s description!)
This time around, however, I did find the mystery element of the novel more satisfying yet I did miss that great sense of the outsider coming into a tight-knit community theme which worked so well in “Himself”. I suppose there is a danger when an author’s second novel has a similar feel to the first that comparisons will be made. There is no doubt that if you enjoyed the debut then you will get much out of this and if you enjoy this as the stand-alone novel it is then I urge you to seek out her first book where everything feels just a little fresher and where her imagination gleams just a little more brightly.
The Hoarder was published in hardback by Canongate in February 2018
I’m pleased to say that this has been the busiest month ever on reviewsrevues.com with lots of new visitors and followers from all over the world. A considerable number have been attracted by my review of the ITV series “The Level“, which in under three weeks has become by far my most read review of all time and many have, happily, stayed around and looked at other things whilst they are on the site.
So, with new people around I thought I’d take the opportunity to mention newbooks magazine and the associated nudge website, both of which I am involved with. I am the lead contributor for literary fiction in the magazine and the community voice for the Bookhugger section of the website. The magazine is published four times a year and the latest edition has just arrived.
The featured author in the black and white photo on the cover is Jodi Picoult and there is an interview with her inside on the publication of her latest book “Small Great Things.” There is also an exclusive from me, an interview with Jess Kidd whose “Himself” I enjoyed and reviewed recently. There’s also a piece on “Black Narcissus” which compares the book to the film, which you also would not have read anywhere else before. If you are looking for book ideas for Christmas, Jade (Book Geek) Paul (Book Life) and myself (Book Hugger) are ready to help. To meet press deadlines I was researching books for Xmas whilst the sun was blazing down (remember that day?) so I have been anticipating the publication of the books I selected as good present choices for some time. If anyone wants to get hold for me any of the books I’ve highlighted for Xmas they would be most welcome!!
Also it was good to see contributions from a couple of other wordpress bloggers, both of whom I have been following for some time. Bookish Beck has highlighted, as I also have, a Christmas book by Jeanette Winterson, which may very well become a seasonal perennial. There is also an interview with Simon Savidge of Savidgereads who has been blogging for a number of years and who is always worth a visit.
If I haven’t tempted you enough there is also the opportunity to get hold of four free recommended reads by just paying the postage. There is the aforementioned “Himself”, together with “The Return Of Norah Wells” by Virginia McGregor, “Dragon Games” by Jan-Philipp Sendker and “The Curious Charms Of Arthur Pepper” by Phaedra Patrick. There are articles on all of those books. With Man Booker Prize announcement imminent there are a collection of my reviews from the short/long lists (“His Bloody Project” for the prize please).
If you haven’t checked out newbooks for a while. This is a magazine that is getting better and better. This edition and back issues can be purchased by visiting the shop on the Nudge website either as a single copy or more sensibly by taking out a subscription. Happy reading!
“Himself” is Mahoney who returns to the Irish village of Mulderrig in the spring of 1976. This was the place his mother disappeared from 26 years before, leading to him being brought up by nuns in an orphanage. Mahoney has come back to find out what happened to her. He can see ghosts and this should help, although he has never seen his mother’s spirit. The larger than life Mrs Cauley takes him under her wing, a marvellous character, wheelchair bound and bedecked in a range of wigs with her theatrical tales and a determination to rouse the village with her annual dramatic production.
Kidd’s debut novel absolutely fizzles with life. There’s some great characterisation here with Mahoney, a 70’s man with long hair and flared trousers alien to most of the village seeming the most stable of the lot. The living and the dead are used well, the ghosts being “just echoes of the stories of their own lives sung back in the wrong order- arsewards”. In fact, there’s a lot of “arse” in “Himself”. Kidd has a ribald sense of humour which sounds just right emanating from these almost Rabelaisian characters. This gives body and depth to what is at heart a very dark tale of a suppressed crime, but she will also have you laughing out loud.
Mahoney’s arrival and investigations unleashes supernatural elements into the community as Mahoney’s fancy piece, Shauna says; “Oh God! Can’t anything just be normal around here? Can’t a storm just be a bloody storm?” There’s all manner of things falling on the people of Mulderrig urging them to give up their secrets. This is a rich tale which incorporates the supernatural and magic to very good effect. This is not an easy balance and as far as I am concerned a lot get this wrong. AK Benedict got it right earlier this year with “Jonathan Dark Or The Evidence Of Ghosts” yet Kidd’s novel is a more satisfying read which will benefit greatly from group discussion to bring out the undoubted quality of the writing.
Himself is published by Canongate on 27th October 2016. Many thanks to the publishers and nudge for the review copy