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AS HEARD ON SIMON MAYO'S BBC RADIO 2 BOOK CLUB
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?
Note to readers: In the US, this book is published under the title Mr Flood's Last Resort
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What Reviewers Are Saying
The first thing I noticed upon picking up this book was the "Radio 2 Book Club" sticker - bookish debate on a National Radio station has to mean something good inside, right?
The answer is yes. Even if this book isn't your cup of tea there is no doubt that it would make a brilliant subject for discussion.
Firstly how to categorise it? Impossible really as it has elements of so many genres - horror, supernatural, romance, mystery, crime to name but a few. For me though it was mostly about relationships. Those between Maud and her friends, family and, of course, the irascible Cathal Flood.
When Maud is sent to be his carer she's faced with a sprawling Gothic Mansion packed to the rafters with stuff. Following the death of his wife, Mary, time has stood still for Cathal - he's a recluse and determined to see off everyone that steps over his doorstep (including, and especially, his son Gabriel).
It's the early parts of the book that I especially love when, despite himself, he starts to warm to Maud's presence - she may have chucked out some of his stuff but she is also taking no nonsense. She's as feistily Irish as he is and the colloqilisms flow off the page. Cathal is not going to be moved into residential care "Not while there's a hole in my arse" - it's like being gloriously submerged into an episode of Father Ted.
Meanwhile Maud sees Saints everywhere - they lurk in the cafe, at the home she shares with transgender Renata, on the street - they watch her every move, judging with a wink, look or nod.
As she gets settled into her job though it becomes clear that the house is keeping secrets. Odd things just start to appear, photos with faces scratched out, messges written in dusty mirrors and a chink appears in the wall of National Geographic magazines - opening a pathway to the upper floors.
The ghostly presence of Mary Flood lead her to finding hidden keys and envelopes - the mystery of the girl in the photo becomes ever more intriguing. Renata, a tarot reading, agoraphobic revels in the mystery but when she is "burgled" it's clear that someone is not happy that they are edging closer to the truth.
Meanwhile there's a parallel story involving the disappearance of Maud's sister some years ago (which I found a little distracting if I'm honest).
With so many strands to this tale there is something for everyone. I would have liked to have seen more of the Cathal/Maud interaction and perhaps a little more attention to the hoarding (given the title of the book) and somehow felt that the story petered out a little towards the end (no saintly pun intended).
However it was a book that made me laugh, made me sad and had me eagerly turning the pages to see what happened next. You can't ask for much more than that!
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.
This dark but comical tale of haunting and hoarding ensnares . . . [Kidd's] imagination is vivid . . . Brilliant * * The Times * * A lyrical gothic detective saga . . . Wonderfully enigmatic and complex . . . [Kidd] is a writer with a poet's skill of balancing clarity and inventive flair -- ANDREW MICHAEL HURLEY * * Guardian * * A brilliantly imaginative tale of secrets and lies, grief and guilt . . . Kidd's writing is gorgeous, the story is enthralling and emotions are sorrowfully raw and vivid in this funny, dark and original literary mystery * * Sunday Express, S Magazine * * Excellent . . . The observations are sharp and humorous . . . with pages of inventive and colourful description . . . The Hoarder is a strong follow-up from a very talented writer who seems to be honing her skills * * Sunday Times * * An arresting talent . . . Executed with irresistible panache, Kidd's novel is as full to the brim with the fantastic as Cathal's Gothic lair is with junk . . . A galloping yarn that entertains even as it disturbs * * Daily Mail * * Superb . . . Kidd writes brilliantly . . . A rather impressive second novel, whose imaginative prowess marks its author as one to watch -- JOHN BOYNE * * Irish Times * * Eerie, engrossing . . . The strong story and compelling characters shine through . . . utterly grips -- Anita Sethi * * Observer * * Engaging and beautifully judged . . . delivered with a lightness of touch and a sensibility that brings all the characters to life fully and believably . . . Excellent -- Doug Johnstone * * The Big Issue * * Riveting . . . Kidd's intelligent plotting and structure caper to a satisfying resolution: this is a twisting, fully original slice of literary horror, and one not to be missed * * Financial Times * * Funny and profoundly moving, The Hoarder is a magically entertaining read . . . Jess Kidd has a gift for creating characters you'll love with a few cleverly chosen words * * Good Housekeeping * *