“A spellbinding tale of a lonely caregiver
and a cranky hoarder with a house full of secrets.”
Elderly Cathal Flood lives in a gothic Victorian mansion in West London called Bridlemere. It is a large dwelling with four stories with a belvedere at the top offering its occupants a wide-ranging view of all of London. Cathal is a hoarder. He has been since his wife passed away some twenty-five years ago. Because of the dire state of his home, he has had difficulty keeping carers… until Maud Drennan.
Maud Drennan does not shock easily and she has a sunny disposition. She takes Cathal’s verbal abuse in her stride and the elderly Irish man, and the lonely Irish woman become friends of a sort. She becomes used to his countless cats and his odd collections of taxidermy and ancient curiosities. Valiantly, she makes inroads in his clutter, shifting the detritus to black bin bags.
“Memories are fickle creatures, you ought to know that, skittish and in no ways trustworthy.”
When Maud was a child, her elder sister went missing. She blamed herself. Traumatized, she took refuge in books – particularly in “The illustrated book of the saints“. Now, in adulthood, she carries the saints with her. Almost like a raft of imaginary friends, they cajole, advise, and chastise her on a regular basis.
“A house, a labyrinth of rubbish, a crazy old man, and a messsage in a bottle: all the ingredients of a twisted crime story”.
Now, as Cathal and Maud become more tolerant of each other, Maud attempts to ferret out information about the Flood family secret. With the help of her agoraphobic, transgender landlady, she tries to piece together the clues of Mary’s death and the fact that the Floods once had a daughter. What mystery lies behind the photograph with the faces burnt out? They wonder why old Cathal does not have anything to do with his only son.
“Everyone fears being read. Being found out. Everyone has their secrets.”
The blurb of this novel SO appealed to me. A gothic Victorian mansion in West London owned by a cantankerous and eccentric hoarder named Cathal Flood; his lonely carer Drennan; family secrets; a plethora of cats…. What could be better?
I absolutely loved the parts of the book that featured the relationship between Maud and Cathal Flood. I found him to be a pitiful old man, yet he retained his sense of humour and his spark. I also enjoyed the relationship between Maud and her friend Renata.
But then, I found that the chapters rich in characterization, descriptive and beautiful language and humour were marred by brief passages that made no sense to me and did not seem to ‘belong‘ to the rest of the book. There were passages relating the conversations of many different long deceased saints; some almost poltergeist like activity; and some random dream sequences. What did they have to do with the book? In my humble opinion they were superfluous to requirements and detracted greatly from the narrative.
I’m completely flummoxed as to how to rate this title. Parts were so stellar that they could rate nothing less than a 5+ stars. Character-rich, beautiful writing and description, and loaded with laugh-out-loud humour. Other parts left me bewildered and asking why I was reading the book at all – meriting about 2 stars. I settled on 3 stars because in my opinion the great parts of the book were marred by the strange parts. I recommend this novel with reservations. The reader should appreciate magical realism/fantasy interspersed in what is otherwise an outstanding literary novel.
This novel was published with THREE vastly different covers – and two titles. Check out this link to read what the author, Jess Kidd, has to say about writing this book.
I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from the publisher, Atria Books, via NetGalley. My unbiased review is my way of saying thank-you.
Jess Kidd completed her first degree in Literature with The Open University, and has since taught creative writing and gained a PhD in Creative Writing Studies. She has also worked as a support worker specialising in acquired brain injury. In 2016, Jess won the Costa Short Story Award for Dirty Little Fishes and her debut novel Himself was selected for the BBC Radio 2 Book Club and shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. In 2017, Himself was shortlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and longlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. Jess was brought up in London as part of a large family from Mayo, and plans to settle somewhere along the west coast of Ireland in the next few years. Until then, she lives in London with her daughter.