Category Archives: Kathryn Stockett

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.

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

Simon’s Bookish Bits #4

Hello, hope you are all well? I sadly have the lurgy so this is a bit of a late bookish bits from my bed where I can have a ramble on about lots of different bookish things that have been on my mind or caught my eye this week. Things coming up are Wallander, book winners, podcasts and vlogs and some more sympathy supplies from publishers. Plus possibly a few other bits and pieces.

First up, and I am probably really behind with this subject, is Wallander. I am sure most of you have heard about this series by Henning Mankell and have also probably read most of them. I am officially late to this Swedish crime series; however as I have a spectacular lurgy this week I have been watching more catch up TV than I have been reading books. (I have devoured some more short stories and a small book plus Jasper Fforde – ok I have been reading less than normal.) One series I came across was the BBC’s version of Wallander played by Kenneth Branagh (pictured below) which you can see on iPlayer.

Wallander... cleary a man who doesn't get hayfever!

Wallander, cleary a man who doesnt get hayfever!

It is absolutely superb, I only watched The Man Who Smiled as I have Faceless Killers on the TBR and am now about to get cracking on reading it before I watch it. I am sure many of you have read it and will be able to tell me where to go after Faceless Killers which I am sure I will be discussing next week in more detail, so don’t give any plots away please.

So next up Podcasts and Vlogs. I am new to Vlog’s and know of only one blogger who does them and its one of my other favourite posts each week which is Eva of A Striped Armchair and her weekly library loot. I have to add I wish my local library was as wonderful as hers as the titles she gets are just marvellous. You must have a watch of her Vlog’s (the latest can be found here) as they are utterly charming and in watching them you get to know Eva even better. I couldn’t do a Vlog I have to say the camera does not flatter me. I would love to make podcasts though I have no idea how do any of you? Do any of you have any Podcast recommendations as I have been bereft since Radio 5 stopped doing there’s, even if I still have Mariella on a Sunday and World Book Club.

Speaking of Podcasts I have found a wonderful new Podcast this week thanks to Mee who had written about it in one of her past blog posts. It is called Books on the Nightstand and is by Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman who work for Random ‘but don’t only talk about our publishers books’. Its marvellous and its like you are overhearing a conversation of two friends over a coffee nattering away about books they have read and loved. You can (and should) download them here and read their blog they are just brilliant from the latest books to ‘challenges on blogs’ they discuss it all. Marvellous!

Now finally an update on the BBB, so far so good but then I have been in bed most of the week. One thing thats been a delight while I have been feeling vile is that I have had rather an influx of books as some lovely publishers have sent me some sympathy parcels. I have had to take a picture on the stairs as there has been rather a wonderful deluge of books here. I did try and put them in publisher order but with all the different sizes it didn’t work. So before I list them all too you a big thanks to Canongate, Orion, Random House, Headline, Penguin, Faber, OUP, Constable and Robinson and Bloomsbury for these. Here they are;

  • The Blasphemer – Nigel Farndale
  • City Boy – Edmund White
  • The Unnamed – Joshua Ferris
  • The Help – Kathryn Stockett
  • Lost – Gregory Maguire
  • Dog Boy – Eva Hornung
  • A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee
  • Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match – Wendy Moore
  • God’s Own Country – Ross Raisin
  • Shadow – Karin Alvtegen
  • A Lion Among Men – Gregory Maguire
  • Direct Red – Gabriel Weston
  • Depths – Henning Mankell
  • The Chalk Circle Man – Fred Vargas
  • Cutting For Stone  – Abraham Verghese
  • The Complete Short Stories – Oscar Wilde
  • Consolation – James Wilson
  • The Rapture – Liz Jensen
  • A Kid For Two Farthings – Wolf Mankowitz
  • Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker
  • Love’s Shadow – Ada Leverson
  • Mrs Tim of the Regiment – D.E. Stevenson
  • Timoleon Vieta Come Home – Dan Rhodes
  • Anthropology – Dan Rhodes
  • Little Clapping Hands – Dan Rhodes

As ever if you have read any of the books or the authors let me know your thoughts. Ooh I nearly forgot… The Istanbul competition winner is… Michelle aka Su(shu) do email me your address! If you haven’t won don’t be disheartened as I have some more giveaways related to some of the above titles coming up (I like you all to benefit too) and some I haven’t mentioned! So keep your eyes peeled.

So that’s all from my sneezy wheezy sick bed for today. Let me know your thoughts on Wallander, the latest arrivals at Savidge Towers and details of any podcasts and vlog’s I am missing out on. Oh and if you know how to make podcasts do let me know! Over to you all, I look forward to your comments to cheer me up with this horrid lurgy.

Oh and another quick question as you guys are always helpful with things like this and I can’t work out which is better. Should I title these posts like this “Simon’s Bookish Bits: Wallander, Podcasts, Vlogs and Incoming” or simply “Simon’s Bookish Bits #5”? That would be as helpful as answers to all the above!

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Filed under Dan Rhodes, Edmund White, Gregory Maguire, Henning Mankell, Joshua Ferris, Kathryn Stockett, Neel Mukherjee, Nigel Farndale, Oscar Wilde, Simon's Bookish Bits, Wolf Mankowitz