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.
Between Mulderrig’s sly priest, its pitiless nurse and the caustic elderly actress throwing herself into her final village play, this beautiful and darkly comic debut novel creates an unforgettable world of mystery, bloody violence and buried secrets.
A BBC Radio 2 Book Club Choice
Shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards 2016
Shortlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award 2017
Longlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger 2017
It would be fair to say that Jess Kidd has an over-active imagination; I mean this 100% in the positive and creative way, in which authors write and bring to life amazing characters. The characters are intense, brilliantly written and definitely memorable. I can easily see why Himself was a BBC2 book club choice.
I just wish I had gotten around to reading it much sooner!
‘For Mulderrig is a place like no other’
The novel takes place between to timeframes. The build up and eventual death of a teenage mum in 1950 and the 1976 era, when the son returns to Mulderrig. It is a very unique and quirky novel, one that I could see appealing to a wide-range of readers.
‘People are born to live and stay and die here’
The prologue opens in 1950, with the savage murder of a teenage mother. Her baby escapes the scene, as her killer holds her as she is dying. It is eerie, evil and a scene that sticks in your head throughout the novel.
The novel then jumps forward in time to 1976, where we meet 29yr old Mahony. He receives some documents that lead him to Mulderrig and the past he has never known. But Mahony is not your usual protagonist, as Mahony can see the dead…..
‘For the dead are always close by in a life like Mahony’s’
In the documents he receives are a photo of a young girl and a sealed letter, which reads…..
“Your name is Francis Sweeney. Your mummy was Orla Sweeney. You are from Mulderrig, Co. Mayo. This is a picture of yourself and her. For your information she was the curse of the town, so they took her from you. They all lie, so watch yourself, and know that your mammy loved you”
Mahony quickly notes the ‘was’ in the text and believes the past tense must mean his mother is no longer alive. Mahony has never known any of his past, of his birth mother or father. He has endured a tough and often abusive upbringing by nuns. He is desperate to learn more, and this leads him to Mulderrig. Upon arriving in the small town, he is quickly acquainted with local barman Tadhg Kerrigan. Tadhg gives Mahony snippets of information regarding the other locals.
Mahony finds himself at Rathmore House, the only place that will put up an outsider. The town is full of bizarre characters both dead and alive. But it is at Rathmore House, that Mahony meets Mrs Cauley, an eccentric elderly woman with a superb outlook on life. Mrs Cauley is quick witted, blunt and at times rather rude.
I instantly liked her. I loved her rebellious approach to life, I think there is a lot we can all learn from Mrs Cauley.
Mrs Cauley has been a resident of Mulderrig the last 20yrs. She is striking, right from her first encounter, when she demands to meet Mahony. They instantly bond and hatch together a plan to solve the mystery. She is well aware of Mahony’s ability to see the dead and this becomes a topic of conversation. For if Mahony can see the dead, why can’t he see his mother?
We quickly become aware that Mahony’s mother Orla was Mulderrig’s dirty secret. That she was loathed for being an unwed mother and often referred to as wild or bad. But we also learn that Orla was a fighter, who did not give up on her baby.
‘She defied the town and everyone in it’
There are chapters scattered throughout that explore Orla’s life, the abuse she suffered makes for alarming reading. This was after all, just a 16yr old girl.
I really hoped that Mahony and Mrs Cauley got the answers they so desperately sought. I hoped that maybe, just maybe, Orla would get some justice, at last.
As the plot moves around the various characters, we discover that the author truly is genius. From Tom Bogey the local hermit to Father Eugene Quinn the weasel faced priest. All the characters are truly unique and at times, I began to ask myself, how does the author think these characters up?
The investigation formed by Mahony and Mrs Cauley is the main basis of the novel. It is dark, intriguing and at times absolutely hilarious. Which can be no easy job, so huge credit to the author for weaving comedy amongst the backdrop of a sinister crime. I absolutely LOVED the characters and look forward to becoming reacquainted with Jess Kidd’s over-active imagination in her next novel The Hoarder. 4*
Also available. . . . .
Hoarder by Jess Kidd
Maud Drennan – underpaid carer and unintentional psychic – is the latest in a long line of dogsbodies for the ancient, belligerent Cathal Flood. Yet despite her best efforts, Maud is drawn into the mysteries concealed in his filthy, once-grand home. She realises that something is changing: Cathal, and the junk-filled rooms, are opening up to her.
With only her agoraphobic landlady and a troop of sarcastic ghostly saints to help, Maud must uncover what lies beneath Cathal’s decades-old hostility, and the strange activities of the house itself. And if someone has hidden a secret there, how far will they go to ensure it remains buried?