The Help – Kathryn Stockett

Oh how the best laid plans and intentions can go awry. You may have heard me mentioning that in order to egg Polly of Novel Insights and myself to read Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help’ a little sooner (as we had both been meaning to for ages) we arranged to have a rogue book group of just the two of us on Monday night. Well by that point Polly was only a third of the way through and I had barely started. So instead we had dinner and watch the movie of Peyton Place which we both rather enjoyed. The next day I picked up ‘The Help’ properly, I know I am very late to this book people have been raving about it for ages and it’s been a choice on a TV Book Club here in the UK, and simply couldn’t put it down.

‘The Help’ is a tale of three women in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. Two of the women, Aibileen and Minny, are black maids looking after the houses and children of white women who spend their times organising benefits and spending their husbands money. Skeeter (or Miss Skeeter/Miss Phelan as she can be known) is a white woman in the area with a difference as though she mingles with the other white ladies she doesn’t really feel like one of them and not just because she is the only single one left (hilarious scene with her mother about this are plentiful) but because she sees things differently. In fact as her closest friends Hilly and Elizabeth discuss having separate toilets fitted in their houses for the black maids Skeeter almost falls out with them as she questions the need. You see while these ladies are happy to have home help looking after their children and cooking their food they don’t actually want to be ‘contaminated’ by them.

As the novel moves on Skeeter looks back at her childhood and her beloved maid Constantine who vanished while she was at college and decides she wants to know what happened to her and in doing so wants to know what it’s really like for these women and how they are really treated, she also wants to write a book about them (I will admit I inwardly groaned at this slightly predictable cliché but it did work and moved the story on). Minny meanwhile after a rather rogue incident has to find a new job with a rather reclusive and strange mistress and Aibileen is getting more and more attached to the child in her care who’s mother doesn’t seem to care for at all. All strands merge and create a wonderful tale of three rather marvellous women. The outcome of course you will have to read yourself but be prepared for much laughter and some tears and anger along the way.

I have to hand it to Stockett as for a debut novel this is something really rather special. The era is drawn out for you warts and all and yet never to the point where every single thing is described, she’s clearly researched everything but isn’t going to show off about it all as some authors tend to do. There are those fiction books that read like a text book every other paragraph, this isn’t one of them. The three main characters are drawn wonderfully; Skeeter being quite a character gives you an insight, through her friend and family and occasionally herself, into the minds of the white woman at the time. Minny and Aibileen, though in similar circumstances, are completely different personalities with their stories to tell and each ones voice rings loud and true; the brashness of Minny and the cheek in contrast to the more demure and often emotional Aibileen.   

I found Stockett’s set up of Skeeter’s family an interesting one as living on a cotton plantation her family made masses of money from slavery, the author reminds us of this now and again and so it contrasts with Skeeter as a person. I also really admired that Stockett doesn’t preach, and that could be very easy in a book like this. Instead she creates a tale that looks at both sides (the villains are truly villainous) from both view points. It serves as a great reminder just how recently all of this actually happened, and reading Kathryn Stockett’s non fictional addition at the end you see just what impact it has all had on her and why she needed to write this book. A marvellous tale from a debut author who I think we can expect great things from. I would suggest you pick this up when you have lots of spare time as you might not be able to put it down.

A book that will: make you angry and hopeful, laugh and cry, and leave you missing the three main characters long after you have closed the book and popped it on your shelf.  9/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

The Long Song by Andrea Levy – A tale of the plantations of Jamaica and its people in the last years of slavery with a narrator you will not forget. A wonderful book.
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan – Tales of the cotton farms in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940’s as war rages and people of both colours have to come together despite their differences to fight for freedom.

So who has read ‘The Help’ and what did you think, I suspect there are lots of you. In fact maybe I should ask who hasn’t read this yet.


Filed under Books of 2010, Fig Tree, Kathryn Stockett, Penguin Books, Review

41 responses to “The Help – Kathryn Stockett

  1. I have yet to read this…I’m not hugely sure why though as it was even on the Orange list. I thought it didn’t appeal but maybe it does, maybe there have just been so many people reading it that I felt I didn’t need to. Probably should give it a go though!

    • I have to say I was quite suprised to read you hadn’t read this as I thought this would be one that was either right up your street or you would have tried either way because of the Orange, do give it a whirl!

  2. Me! I haven’t read it yet! That said, I do own it. As Verity mentioned above, it was on the Orange longlist this year and since I had intended to read the whole list I got it in preparation. But the LIFE got in the way, I didn’t read the whole longlist and… there you go. The Help remains unread. I do want to read it, though, I just have no idea when I’ll get around to it.

  3. The Help is my all-time favorite audiobook – masterfully done with three narrators!

  4. gaskella

    I’ve not read it either and am not sure whether it appeals or not … how indecisive is that!

  5. I loved this book! It was such a delight to read, because it was so well written and the characters were easy to love or hate, and the story itself was so interesting – the relationships between these women and the ways in which their actions not only affect their personal lives, but also their relationships with each other, their community and society. For a debut novel, Stockett really rocked it! And I must say that I’m actually looking forward to the film version of the book which is underway – the director is a friend of Stockett’s, so I’m sure it will definitely do the book justice. Glad you enjoyed it, Simon!

    • I hadn’t thought about how easy Stockett had made it to love or to hate a character, but you are right and yet you understood all their outlook and almost why they felt that way. I also agree Stockett did amazingly with this debut novel, very accomplished.

  6. I loved The Help and it is great to see that you loved this one too. I don’t think I’ve seen any negative comments about it. I really hope it becomes a best seller in the UK.

    • I remember that you raved about this book and now I could see why, I thought this was great and I think now its in paperback and because of The TV Book Group this will become very popular.

  7. I have yet to read The Help. I don’t know why I haven’t picked it up – maybe it’s time!

  8. I haven’t read it. And after I read Kerry’s hilarious (negative) review of it , I wasn’t sure it sounded like the type of novel I would normally read.

  9. Like some others, I was initially turned off by this book because I thought it would be too fluffy, I guess. But although it’s not necessarily the kind of book I normally go for either, I felt like it was impossible not to love. Unless you’re hungry like the Woolf. 🙂

  10. OK! Ok ok! I downloaded this one on my Nook months ago, and I’ve only read 15 pages or so. I’ll give a proper try soon. Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. Oh, I loved The Help. It was a very moving read for me, having grown up in the southern US during that time period. I’m hoping that Stockett will be forthcoming with more, but it would seem hard to top it.

    • Its nice to see that my reading tastes are quite on a par with a lot of my readers. I think it might be a while before we see Stockett’s next book (unless she has signed a two book deal before they would publish book one) but I think there are more great books to come.

  12. Well, I’ve yet to see someone NOT love this book. Couldn’t you just hear the women’s voices in your head as you were reading? Apparently this has been fast-tracked to become a movie, and I for one will be in the front of the line.

    • Oh have a look at one of the links in the comments above and you will see a not so loving review. I am not sure if I would see this or not… hmmm I have such visions from it in my own mind I would be worried they would be rubbished by the movie or spoiled.

  13. louise

    I saw this on the shelves in the bookshop a while ago, picked it up, read the blurb and decided it just wasn’t for me. However, a week later a good friend of mine said she had read it and would recommend it. So I bought it and have read 200 pages in 2 days which is unusual for me (even reading it whilst standing up on the underground leg of my commute – a book has to be good to get me doing that!). I’m hoping the next 200 pages are as good as the first.

    I can’t imagine seeing a film version as I very rarely enjoy a film when I have enjoyed the book.

    • 200 pages in two days is pretty much what I would expect from this book… and maybe even more. I can also understand the needing to read it one the commute, have you missed any tube stops yet because of it?

  14. kimberlyloomis

    I’ve been hearing about this one for a while now (who hasn’t?!) and am now even more perplexed as to whether or not I want to. I’ll take a look at the negative review linked in the comments and will then decide. Nice to hear your thoughts on this book. 🙂

    • Thank Kimberly, I loved it so would of course urge you to read it, but am also not egotistical enough to think any time I say read a book people instantly do hahaha. Every books an investment and you have to want to read something.

  15. Eva

    For some reason I’ve heard only good things about this one, and I’m STILL incredibly resistant. Which is probably a good thing, since the queue at my library ridiculously long anyway! 😉

  16. Sometimes I think we have just too many books. This one deserves to be long-lasting but will probably be lost among so many other books in the next couple of years. We can expect great things from Kathryn I think. A fine review by the way

    • Thanks Tom thats very kind of you. I hope this one doesnt get lost in the amount of many books that get published this year as I think it deserves to be noticed and read.

  17. Bet

    I mostly agreed with Kerry’s review, except that I didn’t notice the pauses. Perhaps I was reading too quickly. I have to say that overall I enjoyed the book (or I would not have finished it) but I did feel that it was somewhat contrived emotionally. I felt that the author was trying to manipulate my feelings in a clumsy way.

    I grew up in the South during that period. My grandparents had a maid named Caroline. They went to her house (more like a shack) to pick her up a couple of times a week and she would help my grandmother with the housework. I can’t remember whether or not she ate lunch with us, but I am sure that when her son came to help my grandfather outdoors, HE did not. We ate on the sunporch, and he ate in the kitchen. I am fairly confident that it never occurred to my grandparents to have a separate toilet for Caroline. In spite of that, I know that they and my parents were “sure” that colored folks were inferior to white folks. :-/ However, my sister and I were trained to treat them with the same politeness that we were expected to show to white adults, with the exception that we called them by their first names.

    • I think thtas a sign of out times, we all assume that books are trying to manipulate and yet I felt that this was a book that Stockett was particularily passionate about this subject.

      Its fascinating to hear memories like yours at it goes on illustrating how recent it was.

  18. I loved this book, Simon. I read it about a month or so ago and I also got to interview Kathryn Stockett (on the phone!) and she was lovely.

  19. Pingback: The Help, by Kathryn Stockett « Novel Insights

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