I absolutely loved this genre bending, darkly humorous book. Opening with the brutal murder of a very young woman in the fictional village of Mulderrig on the west coast of Ireland in the 1950s, Himself initially reads as a crime novel. As the novel jumps forward 20 odd years, to the arrival of handsome Dublin orphan Mahony – armed only with a tip his mother had been taken from him in Mulderrig, and that he shouldn’t trust anyone in the village – we move from a crime genre to something harder to define. We journey with Mahony into an unravelling of the dark heart of what happened to his mother, and what secrets the village – haunted in many ways – holds. There’s a surrealism that is at times David Lynchian – but with the humour of Flann O’Brien. Jess Kidd had me at “Just look at her, she’s a sex-mad culchie”.
Mahony takes up residence in a B&B with a long-term occupant – the aging actress Mrs Cauley – who shares Mahony’s affinity with the supernatural and a love of mysteries. Their relationship leads to the hatching of an improbable plot involving staging a riotous village production of The Playboy of the Western World as a method of uncovering the truth about what happened to Mahony’s mother. There are some plot threads that aren’t resolved, partly as there are as many ghosts in the novel as there are the living – particularly haunting is the constant appearance of Ida, a little girl without the back of her head who wants Mahony to play with her. While some balls are dropped, for this reader it didn’t really matter – I enjoyed going along for the ride. Frankly I would love to see a Mrs Cauley spin-off – she’s a brilliant character. I totally forgave any of the elements of the book that didn’t knit together, and look forward to reading more from Jess Kidd.
Himself is published by Canongate Books. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.