Abandoned on the steps of an orphanage as an infant in 1950, Dublin charmer Mahony assumed all his life that his mother had simply given him up. But when he receives an anonymous note suggesting that foul play may have led to her disappearance, he sees only one option: to return to the rural Irish village where he was born and find out what really happened twenty-six years earlier. In HIMSELF (Atria Hardcover; On Sale March 14, 2017; $26.00), Jess Kidd delivers a black-humored mystery, a debut novel populated with colorful characters, a simmering blend of the natural and the supernatural, and in homage to her roots, a generous dose of quintessentially Irish humor.
From the moment he sets foot in Mulderrig, Mahony’s presence turns the village upside down. His uncannily familiar face and outsider ways cause a stir amongst the locals, who receive him with a mixture of curiosity, suspicion, and excitement. Determined to uncover the truth, Mahony solicits the help of brash, retired actress Mrs. Cauley, and together, the improbable duo concoct a plan to get the town talking, aided and abetted by a cast of characters, some from beyond the grave. As flashbacks unravel the mysterious circumstances of Mahony’s mother’s disappearance, the investigation incurs the wrath of sanctimonious Father Quinn and the Widow Farelly, unsettling the village, provoking cases of letter bombs and poisoned scones. What begins as a personal mission gradually becomes a quiet revolution: a young man and his town uniting against corruption, against those who seek to quash the sinister tides of progress and modernity come hell or high water. But what those people seem to keep forgetting is that Mahony has the dead on his side…
PRAISE FOR HIMSELF:
“Every page of Kidd’s who-done-it novel is filled with magic, spirit, peppery characters, and ghosts of the village dead, including their pets, who are visible only to some… Kidd mixes the darkest capacities of these villagers with carefully observed whimsy and fantasy. Readers who enjoy a dollop of whiskey in their tea will feel right at home in Mulderrig.”
“Told in a unique voice with complex characters, the paranormal mystery will keep readers guessing whodunit until the very end—all while falling in love with the quirky cast. A darkly comic tale that is skillfully and lyrically told.”
“Himself is a sort of Under Milk Wood meets The Third Policeman meets Agatha Christie A highly unusual tale set in a highly unusual Irish village full of dark secrets and engaging characters (not all of them still alive). Lushly imagined, delightfully original and very, very funny, it hurtles along from the very first page. A hugely enjoyable read. I can’t wait for more from Jess Kidd.”
—M.L. Stedman, bestselling author of The Light Between Oceans
“I love this book. It’s a magic realist murder mystery set in rural Ireland, in which the dead play as important a part as the living. It’s one of those books that has you smiling as you read, and that you plan to read again very soon.”
—Louis de Bernières, bestselling author of Corelli’s Mandolin
“Jess Kidd is a genius. Her prose sparkles with wit, savagery and startling originality. I loved it.”
— Tasha Kavanagh, author of Things We Have In Common
“Beautiful, haunting and veined with wicked wit, Himself is a mystery you want to tear through, written in prose you want to savor.”
— Simon Wroe, author of Chop Chop
“An intriguing story of family secrets and haunting.”
— Andrew Michael Hurley, author of The Loney
“A rollicking tale of a hero’s return… breaking down the barriers between mystery story and comedy of manners, mixing magical realism and crime fiction.”
— The Guardian (UK)
“This striking literary debut is a darkly comic tale of murder, intrigue, haunting and illegitimacy.”
— The Daily Express (UK)
“Kidd’s brilliantly bold debut mixes up murder and mayhem with the eerily supernatural. It’s a tender, violent and funny story told in prose that is lyrical, lush and hugely imaginative. Utterly unputdownable.”
— Sunday Express Magazine (UK)
“Abandoned on the steps of an orphanage, Mahony, a lovable car thief and Dublin charmer, returns to the town of his birth after an anonymous message suggests that his mother was murdered. When Mahony meets anarchist and ancient actress Mrs Cauley, this improbable duo concoct a slick plan to get the town talking, aided and abetted by a cast of eccentric characters (living and dead).”
— BuzzFeed, 24 Brilliant Books You Must Read This Autumn (UK Release Dates)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jess Kidd spent time in Ireland as a child, and has been returning ever since. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from St. Mary’s University, where she wrote her dissertation on the melding of genres in crime fiction. Jess loves tea, bees, dogs, writing about ghosts, and smiling at strangers in moderation. She lives in London with her daughter, and plans on moving back to the west coast of Ireland soon.
FIND JESS KIDD ONLINE:
To be quite honest, this book did not work for me. It might very well work for you, but I felt a bit detached and unable to fully immerse myself fully in the novel, especially the conflicts and various vexing issues that trouble each character. The main issue for me was the fact that the characters were often too eccentric to be relatable, creating a gulf between myself and the characters who were written vividly and intriguingly, but without an interesting emotional pull or tug beyond the eccentrics, leaving these characters feeling a little stale and lifeless. Even the main character who is struggling coming to terms with exactly what happened to his mother is not someone whose experience entirely resonates with the reader for these reasons. This was the main narrative of the novel, but the novel quickly digresses from this main anchor narrative, skittering off to other, more insubstantial plot-lines that didn’t quit fit with the main narrative too level. It was these subplot, featuring less important narratives or characters, that ended up obfuscating the entire focus of the novel, which seemed much clearer in the prologue than at any other portion of the book (when focus was squarely on the main plot).
For me personally, writing that held a bit more clearer intent and structure may have helped better bring these things across and cause them to be more meaningful, at least for me. Again, this may be aiming more towards the intended muddled quality that pervades the works of well-known Irish novelists like James Joyce, whose work was what came to mind as I was reading this book (and not exactly a bad comparison per-say, though I am not the biggest fan of James Joyce, though do think his works are very interesting). A novel doesn’t necessarily need to follow a predictable structure, by any means, but it still needs to retain, at least with what is most palatable to me as a reader, some measure of coherent, otherwise it is very easy to lose interest.
Now, there were clear strengths with this novel.One of these strengths, of this book, is the technical adeptness of the prose which has words used sparingly and wisely to create a very clear picture in the reader’s mind. It is the way that the events of the novel are organized that cause a lot of structure-related issues, making the book’s pacing feel a little uneven, not-so much the quality of writing which is the novel’s strongest point for me. It had brevity, never too much superfluity, and it was the one quality of this book that compelled me to keep reading, even when I never felt myself pulled in by the character’s various conflicts.
Perhaps, it struggles to much to find its stride. Is it a mystery, striving to hearken back to an Agatha Christie mystery? Is it a psychological thriller, or an Irish novel with superstitious foibles? Or,is it trying to be the British television series Monarch of the Glen, which was plagued with the same issue of divided direction, never quite getting somewhere where the novel was something cogent, and felt a little more purposeful (one should note that Monarch of the Glen is not set in Ireland, but the show’s uneven balance of sincere drama and irreverence reminded me of this book).
The novel might work for you,though, so please feel free to share your experience reading this book below in the comment section. Please do not take my review as recommendation for/against the novel. I think it holds enough strengths to potentially be a very good book for some, but to me, it just never quite got where I hoped it would, especially when there were fleeting intimations of potential that often quickly got squelched by unclear direction. I’d definitely be interested in the growth of this writer, as it is important to note that this is her first novel, so there is definitely room for growth and improvement, especially as she has some very interesting, unorthodox ideas that with a bit more careful precision and organization just may lend to a stronger novel overall.