Jess Kidd




Date Reviewed:

March 23, 2020

hat a masterful novel Himself is! A delight to read. I know I say this too frequently, but it is hard to believe that this is the work of a first time novelist. It is hard to categorize Himself - it has marvelous writing and great characters, so is it "literature"? There are spirits haunting the town, visible to some of the characters - so is it a ghost story? The protagonist is trying to learn what happened to his mother 26 years ago, she was believed to be murdered, though her body was never found - so is it a cold-case mystery novel? Whatever classification, it is an impressive read. I think that I added this to my list after reading about it in a Seattle Times article about great first novels. When I saw it in the library, I checked it out.

The story begins in 1976 with the arrival of a young man named Mahony in the timeless Irish town of Mulderrig. Mahony grew up in Dublin, raised in an orphanage. The only clue he has to his past is a letter left with him when he was delivered as an infant to the orphanage. The letter states: Your name is Francis Sweeney. Your mammy was Orla Sweeney. You are from Mulderrig, Co. Mayo. This is a picture of yourself and her. For your information, she was the curse of the town, so they took her from you. They all lie, so watch yourself, and know your mammy loved you. Mahony soons finds himself residing in the Rathmore house. The other tenant at Rathmore house is the tiny, ancient, yet formidable Mrs. Cauley. Mrs. Cauley immediately knows the Mahony isn't in town just to escape the hubbub of Dublin city life, Cauley quickly extracts the information that Mahony is here to find out what has become of his mother, Orla Sweeney. Mrs. Cauley proves to be an invaluable ally in the search for the truth.

Mrs. Cauley also ferrets out the fact that Mahony can see ghosts. The spirits haunt the town of Mulderrig, standing nearby or trying to engage in conversation with the living. But most of the ghosts seem aimless and wandering, they don't answer direct questions, but go about their purposeless ways. But some do manage to impart useful clues to Mahony, although, unfortunately, Mahony doesn't see the ghost of his mother Orla.

Occasionally, for a chapter, the novel will jump back in time, and show us Orla and how the town treated an unwed sixteen-year old mother (the reader knows from the Prologue that Orla was murdered in 1950 and buried on an island in the river.) Orla also had the power to see and communicate with ghosts, though she must have been more adept at talking to the spiritual world than her son, for Orla learns many embarrassing secrets of the townspeople, which make them hate her even more.

Himself is full of marvelous lines:

"The house is dark with a foxy musk smell, a smell that rolls out along the hallway in place of a carpet."

"It is raining in Mulderrig. The heat wave has stretched, exhaled, and picked itself up off the town all in one afternoon. And the rain has returned. At first it fell lightly, uncertainly, as if it were testing itself, on the curious noses of cats and cows turned upward to see if this news of the rain were really true."

"Bridget Doosey is a small woman with a shrewd look about her. She is wearing overalls and a fedora. Her one concession to femininity is her handbag, a relic of bygone glamour in tan crocodile with an ornate silver clasp. Like its owner, it is full of sandwiches liberated from the buffet table."

The characters in the novel are all uniquely drawn. There is Shauna Burke, the proprietor of Rathmore House, who decides she is in love with Mahoney. Father Quinn is a weaselly character, bitter and vengeful, not the attributes expected from a man of the cloth. Jack Brophy is a big muscular sheriff of the town, keeping order and stamping out trouble. Tadgh Kerrighan owns the bar; once he was young and good looking man, but the ravages of time have corrupted his body. Kidd portrays all of the characters so believable, its as if she actually went to a small Irish town and met all the locals, and then changed their names to write her story. The dialogue sounds like authentic Irish speech, though I have no way of confirming that.

I enjoyed Himself and recommend it!