Himself: review

Himself (NetGalley)
Jess Kidd
St. Martin’s Press
release date: March 14, 2017

himselfJess Kidd’s first novel Himself is a poignant and darkly funny story about a Mahony, a n’er-do-well Dubliner, who travels clear across the island to the idyllic village of Mulderrig to discover what happened to the mammy who (apparently) abandoned him on the steps of an orphanage when he was still a babe in arms and left without a trace. When an aged nun dies she leaves behind an envelope for Mahony with a photo of his mom Orla holding baby Francis–his given name. On the back is penciled “Know that your mammy loved you.”

But the quaint village, like small towns all over the world, is a place of rumors and lies and cover-ups. Mulderrig isn’t as innocent as it appears and Mahony soon suspects that his mother, rather than abandoning him, was killed. As Mahony sets about asking questions about Orla, he is greeted with disdain or curiosity, at best, and at worst, hostility. Orla was not a welcomed or respected member of the town. She was the “wild bad girl of the village” with a missing pappy and an drunk mam. By the time she was a teen, the wayward Orla had to survive using whatever means she could. And then there was her baby.

Mahony has the gift of second sight, and Kidd’s description of the world he sees is magical. Ghosts frolic on the lawn, play cards in the parlor, skip through the woods, and drift up to sit on the roof–and the author makes it seem so commonplace. The reader realizes about halfway through the novel, though, that those ghosts are clues. (Clues, I must admit, that this reader couldn’t unravel until the last few pages.)

Add to the other-worldliness of the story living characters who are endearing–or despicable. There’s Mrs. Cauley, the eccentric elderly actress who immediately takes Mahony under her wing; her winsome housekeeper and companion Shauna, who falls quickly under Mahony’s spell. There is a jolly barkeep, an unlikable priest, a grieving young mother, a mysterious recluse …

And darker forces are at work when someone first leaves a plate of poisoned scones for Mahony, then a bomb in the letterbox, and finally tries to bribe him to leave for America.

Kidd’s cast of characters–living and dead–are all brought together as Mahony and Mrs. Cauley stage a play, Hamlet-style, to flush out the killer. And, much like Hamlet there’s a fight, murder, a raving woman who knows the killer, and too many secrets to count.

If you’ve a friend who is a Hibernophile (Did you even know that was a thing?!), Himself would make a perfect St. Paddy’s Day surprise. Pop it in a bright green bag with a bottle of stout, a packet of crisps, and you’ll be fast friends forever.

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