The uncanny in an Irish village: Himself by Jess Kidd
Himself is a captivating novel, a magical realist mystery set in the 1970s in an Irish village that centres around the people in the community and secrets hidden in the past. Mahony returns to the village of Mulderrig to try and uncover the truth about the teenage mother he never knew, neither the living nor the dead seem to be much use in telling him what happened. As hostile locals oppose him and strange natural forces and eccentric inhabitants prove unlikely allies, he slowly discovers the secrets of the past and violence in the present.
Kidd creates a vivid world in which the uncanny blurs with the real, where the dead might be seen but they aren’t always useful, and belief and superstition might just have something useful to say. This element makes Himself much more than a mystery novel or one about returning to a small village to uncover the secrets of the past: it is also a tale of haunting, both by people and places, and about forces at work that are larger than individuals. Mahony is a typical mysterious good-looking stranger, one from Dublin who knows about the contemporary music and fashions that haven’t made it to Mulderrig, but his ability to see the dead gives him an interesting angle. The argumentative and outrageous aging actress Mrs Cauley is the most memorable character and Mahony’s unlikely ally, but the novel has a large sweep of characters as it depicts the interconnectedness of village life.
The combination of mystery, the supernatural, and a very human past of scandal and violence make Himself a gripping and atmospheric novel, enjoyable for fans of magical realism, literary mysteries, and Iain Banks in particular.