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January 2018

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reading

I'm goin' to Jackson. The Help, Kathryn Stockett

thehelp

I’m late to the party with this book, nor have I seen the film. Some snobbish instinct always puts me off bestsellers, but this one came from the market for 20p, recommended by the seller, so I gave it a go. It’s very long indeed and half way through I stuck completely and read a couple of other books before going back to it.

The events in the book take place in Jackson, Mississippi from 1962. The main white characters are poisonous Hilly, who sets the tone for the town’s white ladies by sheer force of personality, and Skeeter, an aspiring writer. Skeeter has the idea of writing the stories of the coloured maids, told from their own point of view, good and bad. This is where the maids, especially Aibileen and Minny, come into their own. They get all the best lines. The whole venture is extremely dangerous, risking social exclusion for Skeeter and dismissal or worse for the maids who dare speak to her.

As with so many books set within living memory (certainly mine), I got irritated by all the date pointers: the Pill, Valium (help for women), ‘smoking’s not going to kill me’ and so on. At one point Skeeter hears The Times They are a-Changin on the car radio and ‘I feel like I’ve just heard something from the future.’ This didn’t ring true for me, nor do I think people used the word ‘typo’ in the sixties. It’s hard for an English person to understand the mindset of the old south, both before and after the civil rights movement. People who feel strongly about the Confederacy (and they do), seem bizarrely stuck in the past, like the Irish who still go on about Oliver Cromwell and William III, or Scottish Jacobites. We’re probably all ‘damn’ Yankees’ at heart, yet we’ll sing along heartily to The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Why is it that lost causes have all the best songs?

Kathryn Stockett writes about what she knows. She was herself brought up in Mississippi by a black maid whom she loved. Like Skeeter, she went to New York when she was twenty four. Again like Skeeter, she wonders if she’s done the right thing in telling these stories. ‘Mississippi is like my mother. I am allowed to complain about her all I want, but God help the person who raises an ill word about her around me, unless she is their mother too.’ If you’re looking for a great novel about civil rights, look elsewhere. If, however, you want to sit down and have someone tell you fascinating stories, this book is for you.

eyehelp
© Private Eye

Comments

Haven't read the book, but I like the cartoon!

What kind of an ugly name is Skeeter!?
The cartoon is unkind but I couldn't resist. Funnily enough, it was in this week's issue.

In the book, Skeeter is a baby name which stuck but it immediately made me think of Skeeter Davis and The End Of The World.



She looks rather like one of the southern belles in the novel, everyone's perfect daughter. The hair! The puffed sleeves! How uncool could you be? I'm fond of the song, though.

Edited at 2012-07-17 07:10 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, now I remember! Poor girl.

Ha, so PE was behind the times as well! Maybe they sniffed out you were going to write a review. :-)
Heh!

(Anonymous)

I had no interest in the book but went to the movie with two women who had read and loved the book. It was good. Not great but good. Not a subject I 'enjoy' watching or reading about. Sad times, those.
It seems incredible that these things happened so comparatively recently. I'll watch the film if it comes on TV.

(Anonymous)

On a different subject

Hey! You're mentioned on my blog today. :<)

http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2012/07/francoise-hardy.html

Re: On a different subject

Whoo! Thanks for the link. I think since that first contact we have established that we are indeed kindred spirits :-)
I have The Help and have been resisting reading it or seeing the film. I don't know why. Another friend read the book and didn't give an overly favourable review. I'm scared to start it in case my gut feeling that I won't like it is correct and I'd still have to finish the book :)
I wouldn't have felt any guilt at not finishing it, but the maids' stories were interesting enough that I wanted to find out what would happen.
Interesting - your review makes me more likely to read the book than I otherwise would have been. I agree with you that it's annoying when writers shoehorn in time-pointers, though. It's something I find happens a lot with historical crime novels.
That's good! Those time-pointers drive me mad. There's another term the author used anachronistically but I can't remember what it was. Should have put in a page marker.
I don't think I can get interested enough in this book to read it. Liked what you said about Jacobites, though, I think I'm one...
You are wrong but wromantic!

(Anonymous)

The Help

I haven't seen the movie, and was reluctant to try the book because (paradoxically) of rave reviews from friends - have been "burned" by their enthusiasms before. We have a little joke about this little group of people being a test market for trends - if they eat it, wear it, rave about it - it will be the "next big thing!" "Trendy", you know - which doesn't necessarily translate into "stellar".
I picked the book up just before a long waiting period stuck in my car; it was engaging enough to leave in my bag for an emergency read, but not good enough to make it into the house. It's still out in my car, about 6 months after its purchase, three-quarters finished. I may eventually polish it off, but am feeling no hurry.
I agree with your assessment. A good enough story, but not ground-breaking or even that exciting; I figured out the plot right from the get go and discovered no surprises. Liked the comments about the "time markers" - yes! - lots of those and very contrived. An okay read, probably over-raved about. And I think people have already moved on; I've been seeing it on the thrift store bookshelves lately.

Re: The Help

We obviously agree! The film is on TV here next week, but only on Sky, so not for me.