Opening sentence: “As pale as a grub she’s an eyeful.”
It’s been a while since I’ve read several books by an author and truly felt their natural, distinctive tone of voice shine through loud and clear in all of them, even when all the books have a very different feel in regards to plot and characters. This was the case with my latest read from Jess Kidd though.
Things in Jars is her third novel and features her distinct style that I’ve come to love. To quote myself in a previous review (is that even a thing? Don’t know, but I’m doing it) for Himself, Jess’ debut novel: ‘the supernatural elements are so lyrically and easily incorporated into the narrative, you suspend your disbelief immediately and go with it.’
So yes, the supernatural elements are Jess’ USP and in this book they come in the form of Ruby Doyle, a charming Irish boxer who just happens to be a ghost. He takes a shine to our lead character, Bridie Devine.
Bridie is a private detective in Victorian London (1863), when women didn’t tend to find themselves in such a profession. We meet her as she’s taking on a new case: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick. Christabel’s father hires Bridie to find out who has taken his young daughter. With the help of the wonderfully named Inspector Valentine Rose, Bridie must discover who / what Christabel is and who has taken her. The thing is, Christabel may not be completely human… The collecting of curiosities – human or otherwise – is a prominent pastime among certain sections of Victorian London.
The plot is brilliant, you’re really with Bridie as she delves deeper into murky waters to find out Christabel’s story, but what I truly loved was meeting the enigmatic and lovable Bridie and watching her relationship with Ruby Doyle develop. Yes, the ghost. They have this exchange that gives you a great feel for their connection:
Bridie: “I do not believe in ghosts, sir.”
Ruby: “Neither do I – why do you not?”
Bridie: “I have a scientific mind. Ghosts are a nonsense.”
Special mention to Bridie’s standout housemaid and friend, Cora Butter, ‘the only, and most terrifying, seven-foot-tall housemaid in London.’ This book is just littered with character gems that add to the overall delight of reading.
I have quite unintentionally (been subconsciously drawn to, perhaps?) read a few novels recently set in Victorian England – The Corset by Laura Purcell and The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal are two fantastic examples that you also must read. This point in history really lends itself to such a dynamic, atmospheric narrative: innovation is ripe, The Great Exhibition brings art and technology to the forefront of the country’s identity and the landscape is primed for rich characters and seedy dealings.
Think I may have found my new favourite bookish era. Jess Kidd utilises it perfectly to give such depth to this read. Things in Jars is another fantastic book, keep ’em coming Jess!
- Published by Canongate April 2019
- 416 pages