Himself by Jess Kidd
Opening sentence: “His first blow: the girl made no noise, her dark eyes widened.”
Jess Kidd is an author that came to my attention thanks to Twitter. More specifically, thanks to Marian Keyes on Twitter. She sang Jess’ praises, so when I saw this book in the library, I snapped it up. Turns out, Marian Keyes is correct, Jess Kidd is brilliant – this, her debut novel, is quite unlike anything I’ve read before: A supernatural murder mystery.
In 1950, 16 year old Orla Sweeney is brutally murdered in front of her baby son in the small village of Mulderrig on the west coast of Ireland. 26 years later, Mahony, who was raised in a Dublin orphanage, returns to the village to find out what happened to his mother.
Mahony is a gorgeous, charismatic man who causes quite the reaction in the village, “They’ve never seen anyone like this: a Mayo Heathcliff. All curses and windstorm, black passion and fury.” He captures the attention of both the living and the dead residents, you see, he can see and speak to ghosts… This is something he takes very much in his stride and as a reader, you do too, as the supernatural elements are so lyrically and easily incorporated into the narrative, you suspend your disbelief immediately and go with it.
The story is told in two time frames: In 1950 we find out a little more about Orla and in 1976, where we spend a majority of the book, we follow Mahony’s search for the truth about what happened to Orla. Mahony takes a room in the local boarding house, where he meets the wonderful Mrs Merle Cauley, an eccentric older lady who was an actress in her youth and is still very theatrical in all that she does. She takes an instant shine to Mahony and makes it her mission to help him find out what happened to his mother. Rebellious and promiscuous, most of the village only saw it as a good thing when Orla ‘disappeared’ and many, including the village priest Father Quinn and the bitter Annie Farelly are not too happy about Mrs Cauley and Mahony digging up the past. We get to know quite a lot of the locals, which makes the murder mystery element so enticing, as there are so many possible culprits.
Along with the story, I loved the Irish tone and colloquial words that run throughout, from the book’s title to the cheeky phrases: ‘Tadhg grins benevolently at his audience and spreads his hands wide. ‘Ye can all ask me arse. Now Mahony?’ I was fully immersed in the world of Mulderrig from the first chapter and loved the addition of the supernatural elements, from the ghosts to a plague of frogs, a quixotic storm (‘This storm is here to help Mahony, not finish him off’) and even books predicting the future (‘The books, the papers and the magazines: all of them pulsing with a faint heartbeat.’) I appreciate this may sound a little nuts, but in the context of the story and the way it’s been written, it makes perfect sense!
It’s always a great feeling to discover a fantastic new author and even better to discover they’ve recently released a new book! Jess’ second book, Hoarder, has now gone straight onto my TBR list.