I remember reading somewhere that the difference between a mystery book and a piece of literature is the resolution: in the former we find out the answers to the internal question, whereas in the latter we are never given such an explanation, and are left to extrapolate for ourselves what the answers could be. We don’t do much differentiation at the store, especially in terms of fiction. It was only August of last year that we began keeping our science-fiction/fantasy novels separate from the general fiction alcove. And, while we’ve always had a separate place for mystery books, that place will include thrillers and horror stories, which aren’t quite the same thing.
So, when we received our copies of this beautiful book this morning, I had to think about how to classify it. On the surface of things I guess it should be in the mystery section. After all, it’s the story of Mahoney, who travels to the small town of Mulderrig at the behest of a note left with him upon the doorstep of an orphanage in Dublin some 20 years previous. It reveals to him his real name, and his mother’s, and ends: “For your information she (his mother) was the curse of the town, so they took her from you. They all lie, so watch yourself, and know that your mammy loved you.”
This, then, is the RACHE scrawled in blood that sets Sherlock on his first hunt, i.e. the beginning of a mystery investigation. And Mahoney is different from Holmes in that where the great detective had only the powers of logic Mahoney has nervous visitations from ghosts, which he tries his best to ignore. Both protagonists are enigmatic and magnetic, and both Arthur Conan Doyle and Jess Kidd know how to write a memorable charm into their characters.
So, why do I hesitate, pondering where it is I should file Himself?
Jess Kidd has that rare ability to tell a story with the type of confidence of which seasoned writers will be jealous.
Is it that Mahoney refuses to be bound by the conventions in which he seems to be situated? He is far too aloof to be considered an investigator, after all, perfectly happy to allow the pair of old ladies he teams up with to do most of the digging and prying. He’s immensely cool like that. But, that’s not quite it...
It is also true that Jess Kidd has that rare ability to tell a story with the type of confidence of which seasoned writers will be jealous. There is a literary bent to her pen and a glint for detail in her eye. Thus, while the plot is thick with the intrigue one would expect from a mystery novel, it is here a foundation from which Kidd can reach for something higher —or something deeper. But, there’s more than that, too.
I think it’s because Jess Kidd doesn’t just reach; she grabs hold firmly. She understands how to detail the idiosyncracy of a lonely maid in small Mulderrig so that it resonates. She knows how to explore the ties that bind the community in a fashion that bespeaks how secrets of a larger scale are kept and hidden; and how those more mundane can still matter profusely.
Most of all, Himself is going to be kept in the fiction section because the resolution of its plot doesn’t begin to answer the questions the book poses. Most of these questions are left to the reader
to answer. Simple ones like: why is a book about a man trying to solve what happened to his mother entitled Himself? Or: if the dead can help you solve your issues, why would you ignore them?
Rupert is a fan of fabulation in the fiction he reads. He mostly reads classics, but also enjoys science-fiction, and a good adventure story. On the non-fiction side he enjoys books on politics, language, and English history.