ONE TO WATCH OUT FOR: Himself by Jess Kidd

Review published on August 1, 2016.

Himself is Mahony who returns to the Irish village of Mulderrig in the spring of 1976. This was the place his mother disappeared from 26 years before leading to him being brought up by nuns in an orphanage. Mahony has come back to find out what happened to her. He can see ghosts and this should help, although he has never seen his mother’s spirit. The larger than life Mrs Cauley takes him under her wing, a marvellous character, wheelchair bound and bedecked in a range of wigs with her theatrical tales and a determination to rouse the village with her annual dramatic production.

Kidd’s debut novel absolutely fizzles with life. There’s some great characterisation here with Mahony, a 70’s man with long hair and flared trousers alien to most of the village seeming the most stable of the lot. The living and the dead are used well, the ghosts being “just echoes of the stories of their own lives sung back in the wrong order- arsewards”. In fact, there’s a lot of “arse” in Himself. Kidd has a ribald sense of humour which sounds just right emanating from these almost Rabelaisian characters. This gives body and depth to what is at heart a very dark tale of a suppressed crime, but she will also have you laughing out loud.

Mahony’s arrival and investigations unleashes supernatural elements into the community as Mahony’s fancy piece, Shauna says; “Oh God! Can’t anything just be normal around here? Can’t a storm just be a bloody storm?” There’s all manner of things falling on the people of Mulderrig urging them to give up their secrets. This is a rich tale which incorporates the supernatural and magic to very good effect. This is not an easy balance and as far as I am concerned a lot get this wrong. AK Benedict got it right earlier this year with Jonathan Dark Or The Evidence Of Ghosts yet Kidd’s novel is a more satisfying read which will benefit greatly from group discussion to bring out the undoubted quality of the writing.

Phil Ramage 4/5
Himself – Jess Kidd
Canongate Books 978-1782118459 hbk Oct. 2016

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