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?
By Becky Hinshelwood
This is a book that will make you late. It will make you late for bed as you think “I’ll just finish the next bit”… for nearly two hours. It will make you late in the morning as you try to squeeze in a couple of paragraphs before the school run. It will make you late to eat meals, late to get to work, late to meet people…
Because it is excellent.
There are countless layers to Jess Kidd’s second novel. There are family secrets, criminal mysteries, personal traumas, ghostly occurrences, folk tales, analyses of identity, colourful characters and social commentary. The best bit is that it’s all expertly woven together by the author to be something really unique. An original story which feels like it can’t be contained in one genre.
Cathal Flood lives in his grand London home, surrounded by the hoarded possessions of a life of regret and sadness. Maud Drennan is a care worker with the insight of a woman living with emotional baggage. These characters alone are utterly engaging, their developing relationship entirely convincing despite the supernatural tone of the tale. Their shared Irishness allows these two characters a bond which brings with it some wickedly funny dialogue.
Cathal guards a secret, Maud harbours her own. Amongst these forbidding histories, Maud is also simply trying to clear some space to make the old man a sandwich and trying to get him to take a bath. So in part this story is a modern parable of an elderly man struggling to cope with a house, and a history, without the support of his offspring. My mother’s double garage which is filled from floor to roof timbres with the remnants of raising four children has been a running joke in our family for years. Perhaps my siblings and I should help to clear it out before it develops a life of its own.
Jess Kidd has successfully painted the house as a character in its own right. It reveals clues and signs to Maud with just a hint of menace and more than a little humour. I was particularly tickled by the description of The Great Wall of National Geographics; what lies beyond beggars belief and is described with such humour it becomes even more vivid.
Maud’s agoraphobic landlady Renata is a brilliant character, with her own story beautifully constructed and gradually revealed. She is another character who is not all that she seems, and acts as an anchor to reality. She watches too much television crime and her piecing together a version of the truth like a detective story brings yet another layer to the story.
The supernatural aspects of The Hoarder don’t overpower the book and shouldn’t put off anyone who normally steers clear of tales of magic and mystery. Personally, I love a bit of gothic dread in a book, and the way that Jess Kidd writes in this aspect is balanced with enough pragmatic sarcasm to stop it from overcoming the tone of the book. It is established early on that Maud interacts with visions of Catholic saints throughout her daily life. They’re hilarious and unthreatening characters, tied inexorably into Maud’s psyche and gradually unveiled history.
Alongside the house and the Flood family and the people who aren’t as they seem, there is another mystery in Maud. Parallels of her own past become clear, and the ending therefore both open and appropriate. Her story feels entirely natural alongside that of Cathal and his family, indeed it is perhaps that which makes her character uniquely placed to unlock the story hidden amongst the house’s hoarded detritus.
I don’t mind that The Hoarder made me late – I’m a chronically late kinda gal anyway. It was totally worth it to devour this brilliant and original story.
If Becky’s review has inspired you to read more then you can buy your copy HERE + free UK delivery. Published by Canongate.