I am not lost…

March 15, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: HIMSELF by Jess Kidd

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I seem to be on a kick for reading books which take place in Ireland lately. Not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s amusing that after reading CITY OF BOHANE, my mind seemed much more well-put-together for this particular book. The two don’t share much else in common, but honestly, the charm of Irish writing is more than enough to keep me paying attention.

And Kidd definitely knows how to tell a story.

HIMSELF follows the story of a man named Mahony, left as a young lad and sent to an orphanage–now come back from Dublin to his small hometown of Mulderrig. He’s assumed all these years that his mother just gave him up, but now he’s got reason to believe that there was foul play amuck, and the only place to have answers is Mulderrig. But his mother’s name isn’t a welcome one in the little village, and the bastard son of the town’s wayward child reappearing doesn’t make him the most popular in town. But in conjunction with the town’s notorious retired theatre actress (and a bit of a rabble rouser) Mrs. Cauley, Mahony is determined to get answers, whether the townspeople like it or not.

What’s interesting is that there’s a strong thread of supernatural elements that traces through this entire book, and it makes up a good chunk of plot bits…but it never really feels like it’s trying to make a big deal out of it. Ghosts are just kind of a thing that happen, and the ability to see them is about as noteworthy as having heterochromatic eyes or being able to speak a dead language. It’s a nice change from most of the other supernatural tales we see, with their heavy-handed nature and over-the-top necessity for making Everything Supernatural Very Important And You Should Pay Attention. It’s tiring and takes away from the believability of the story. This lets it be an underscore–an important one, but a low-key one–and manages to walk the line beautifully.

The ending is a little Greek theatre; there’s not a great deal of clear resolution. Oh, the fact that the resolution happens is very clear, but who’s being affected by what gets a little lost in vague wording and ambiguous pronouns. (This was the case for CITY OF BOHANE as well, which makes me wonder if it’s a common theme in Irish writing.) It didn’t so much take away from the end, and more just left me a little unsatisfied. I hadn’t really expected a clear-cut ending, but this was only a hair’s breadth shy of one, and I felt like it got taken out from under me. That may just be my reading, however. I am somewhat noted for missing a word or two as I read, and then being told later that I’m just bad at paying attention. You’d think I’d be better at that by now, but I do it everywhere else in my life too, so I don’t know why my reading should be any different.

The characters are believable, as outrageous as they are. This is a small town; I grew up in a small town and I know how big and ridiculous the local characters can be. Any large idea, anything blown out of proportion, and particularly any deep-set religious belief is entirely fair game. It just leaves you shaking your head, wondering how these people could be so incredibly blind…and knowing in your heart that there’s no other way this story could have gone.

There’s nothing truly overwhelming about the book, but I don’t mark that against it so much. Not every book is going to knock your socks off and leave you looking for them in the next county over, and I’m not sure I would want every book to. Sometimes you just want a calm, quaint little story, filled with good writing and dark humor, to carry you along and tell you a tale, stepping down the streets along an Irish river. And that’s exactly what this book delivers. Well worth the read, and I’d be interested to see what more Kidd does in the future.

Rating: **** (Recommended)

HIMSELF hit shelves yesterday, March 14th, 2017.

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