“Comic energy and invention that creates noir drama out of family secrets” – The Hoarder by Jess Kidd

The Hoarder is Jess Kidd’s second novel after last year’s Himself, which was an original investigation into mysterious parentage, guilt and the violent secrets of the past (with a cast that includes ghosts who act as witnesses). The Hoarder builds on much that is wonderful in Himself. This time around Kidd tells the story of Maud, a care worker who is employed to look after Cathal Flood in his West London “Gothic crap heap.” In the best tradition of the gothic novel the house is full of Flood’s art, taxidermy and accumulated possessions. Kidd’s description of Flood’s hoarding, alongside natural decay, showcases her imagination and the comic rhythm of her writing:

“A dead mouse curled in a teacup, a headless ceramic dray horse, a mannequin’s pink severed limb: that sort of thing. I have a morbid bent.”

As with all large decaying houses in a novel it holds a secret and Maud begins to investigate the disappearance of a young girl called Maggie Dunne. She has the spirits of Saints providing information, “clues from the afterlife,” while her landlady, an “agoraphobic transvestite”, Renata becomes her sidekick.

Kidd’s style is built around humour which adds a music-hall quality to her descriptions,

“Physically I am small with a negligible chest and commonplace backside, although I’m a great catch for a leg man for I have a pair of those,”

while her dialogue recalls the deadpan mundanity of a Les Dawson sketch from the 1970s:

“I once had a very temperamental Hillman Imp.”

A noir atmosphere is brought to bear on the domestic drama of the Flood family, the Floods are Irish and, as Maud points out,

“murdering usually runs in the family; its an inherited condition, like a squint.”

Maud’s interest in the mystery at the core of the Flood family may be prompted by the disappearance of her own sister, while on a particularly grim-sounding holiday on the Irish coast. At the core of The Hoarder (and Himself) is the threat of revelation, when family secrets are exposed the consequences are destructive. In Kidd’s fictional world everything is precarious:

“Death, like life, is probably quite routine. Not unpleasant, just a bit dreary, the best any of us can hope for.”

Any Cop?: Just as enjoyable as Himself, with a comic energy and invention that creates noir drama out of family secrets and “the hard-won wisdom of the scarred at heart.”

 

James Doyle

 

 

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