Book Review: Himself by Jess Kidd

Himself – Jess Kidd (Atria Books, 2017)

When I think of books to compare Himself to, nothing springs to mind. When I think of how to describe Himself, the first word that comes to me is “Irish”. This book is very Irish. From the setting to the dialogue, maybe even to the mystical elements it contains.

Mahoney, an orphan from a young age, a crook, and a very charming man, returns to Mulderrig, the town he was born in. His mother was a wild young girl who scandalized the town before disappearing with her baby boy. Popular opinion says she got on a bus and left, abandoning her baby soon after, but some in Mulderrig believe that she met a more sinister event and so Mahoney begins to investigate.

He does so with the help of an eccentric, elderly former actress and together they launch a play, using the it as an opportunity to interview the people of the town and to try and piece together what really happened. To further complicate matters, Mahoney sees dead people.

While this might sound like it launches the book into the realm of fantasy, Kidd deftly creates this gift of second sight as a defining characteristic of Mahoney. Without it, he might be just another sleazy, good-looking charmer, flirting with the ladies of the town (who certainly don’t seem to mind). However, Mahoney’s constant visions and interactions with the dead around him lend him a depth and a backstory that make his character all the more fascinating. He is haunted and amused and confused by the dead around him, left wondering why his own mother never appears to him, and how much he can trust or understand the stories they tell him. His own true history is slowly pieced together by his interactions with both the living and the dead and it certainly creates a unique type of mystery story.

As a first novel, Himself is very impressive. While it has its uneven parts, it shows a unique voice and a great deal of creativity and I look forward to seeing more from Kidd.

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What I Read – July 2017

Woefully lately but in the interests of keeping track (for myself because I’m sure no one has been waiting with baited breath), here is what I read in July:

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill (Harper Collins Publishers, 2017)

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (Knopf, 2017)

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (Blumhouse Books, 2017)

Himself by Jess Kidd (Atria Books, 2017)

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (Hogarth, 2017)7

Book Review: The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

The Japanese Lover – Isabel Allende (Atria, 2015)

I’ve long been told that I should read Isabel Allende so I happily picked up this second hand copy at Powell’s Books when in Portland. The Japanese Lover wasn’t exactly what I expected but Allende didn’t disappoint. Her writing is effective, dense, and infinitely enjoyable.

Allende packs a lot into this book. The story encompasses a lot of 20th century history in the USA but does it without leaving the reader overwhelmed. She wisely assumes that her reader will have a basic knowledge of this history and so moves forward with the story.

We open with an unusual senior’s home in San Francisco, present day, where a young woman with a mysterious past has just been hired. Irina is originally from Moldova, raised in poverty by her grandparents; we know she’s running away from something but she seems happy for the first time at Lark House. There she begins an unusual friendship with Alma, an older, mostly independent and wealthy woman who has her own secrets in her past. Including the letters she regular receives from an unknown correspondent.

Allende slowly unfolds Alma’s history, from her privileged upbringing in Poland, interrupted by the growing threat of World War Two when a young Alma is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in San Francisco. There she develops two close friendships – her cousin, Nathaniel, and the gardener’s son, Ichimei. Before the war is over, however, Ichimei and his family are deported with the rest of the Japanese residents of the West Coast and spend the rest of the war in a prison camp.

Canada shares this shameful history with the US; thousands of Japanese, many of them citizens, were unfairly imprisoned and stripped of their homes, land, and jobs. While it’s something that’s slowly becoming more talked about, it’s still a part of our history that is often ignored or unknown. I have yet to read much fiction dealing with it, either American or Canadian. I don’t know enough about the historical facts of the prison camps in the USA to speak to Allende’s accuracy but I thought she did an excellent job of portraying how different members of Ichimei’s family dealt with what happened to them. His mother, father, older brothers, and older sister all have vastly different reactions and each of them feels authentic and honest. Allende also touches on some of the far-reaching effects that the imprisonment has on their family and others.

(In fact, the major historical inaccuracy that I noticed was that everyone in Alma’s family was so completely non-racist. While definitely making for a more uplifting story, it felt a little unrealistic that they were all so open-minded.)

Alma’s life story is balanced out by the present day storyline. The growing friendship between Alma and Irina is charming and interesting to read about. I was less interested in Irina’s relationship with Alma’s grandson, Seth, but it does do a decent job of showing the disparity of wealth and class divisions in present day America.

All in all, The Japanese Lover was a good introduction to Allende’s work and I will definitely look for more from her in the future.

What I Read – July 2016

Revolutionary RoadRichard Yates (Vintage Contemporaries, 2008)

A Tangled Web – L.M. Montgomery (Bantam Books, 1989)

The Painted Kiss – Elizabeth Hickey (Atria Books, 2005)

The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers – Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw Hill, 2005)

Six Walks in the Fictional Wood – Umberto Eco (Harvard University Press, 1994)

The Vegetarian – Han Kang (Portobello Books, 2015) (translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be – Farley Mowat (Pyramid Books, 1968)

Currently Reading:

Rumours of Another World – Philip Yancey

The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Don’t forget! You can follow along with what I’m reading in real time on Instagram @karissareadsbooks.