Updated: Oct 30, 2019
I’m guessing, no, surmising, that readers who are going to read this book know what hoarding is, and the horrible, debilitating grip it has on those it afflicts, literally imprisoning them in a prison of their own creation.
Mr Cathal Flood is a hoarder. He may be able to move efficiently, swiftly, through his house, having intimate knowledge of negotiating the passageways and tunnels amidst the mess. However. it is a different story for Maud Drennan. She, who has been working on cleaning up Flood’s house the past week, struggles with moving through the myriad of rubbish that fills the house from floor to ceiling, wall to wall.
Drennan is a social-care worker who has been assigned to Flood, tasked with, if not Sisyphean, than the Herculean task of cleaning the mess up and looking after Flood’s welfare. Her first impressions of Flood are that he is a cantankerous old man, this view only strengthened by her predecessor leaving after only three days, unable to put up with Flood’s antics and abuse.
As I have come to expect, Kidd’s writing is amazingly descriptive and the first chapter in which she describes the conditions, had me feeling claustrophobic, the walls closing in around me. There is more however, than just claustrophobia, a hint of foreboding envelopes the house,
“But for all this, the quiet house is not at peace, for there is a watched and watchful feeling, a shifting shiftless feeling. As if more than cats track your moves, as if nameless eyes follow you about your business. At Bridlemere objects disappear and reappear somewhere else at will. Put your wristwatch on the windowsill, you’ll find it hanging from a hook on the dresser. Turn your back and the teapot you left on the table is now on a shelf in the pantry.”
The first day we meet Drennan on the job, one of these mysterious happenings takes place. The door to the room she is working in slams shut and the sink fills up with water and overflows. Along with the overflow of water comes a milk bottle with a photograph furled up inside. When Drennan removes the photograph, she finds it is a photo of two young children a boy and a girl, standing next to the fountain that is out in the yard somewhere. The girl’s face has been burnt out completely, seemingly with a cigarette.
The next day Drennan finds another photograph, this time mysteriously stuck on a window. It is of a woman holding a little boy by the hand.
This time it is the woman’s face that has been burned out. Drannan realises that the photo must be of Flood’s son, Gabriel, and his wife who was killed in a “mysterious” fall.
Drannan’s friend Renata, thinks that Flood has killed his wife and loves to continually tell her that. The photographs are irrefutable proof that something nefarious is going on at the house full of junk. Renata has a newspaper clipping she believes has been sent to her from Mary Flood, the dead wife. It is an article about a young fifteen-year old girl going missing in 1985. Renata assumes immediately that Flood has had something to do with it. Maybe he has her imprisoned in the house and is using her as a sex slave. Renata’s words not mine. She also assumes that the photographs were sent by Mary. Renata, who is agoraphobic, is determined to use Drannan vicariously to help her solve the mystery, and expose the murderer.
It would not be a Kidd novel if there were no ghosts involved. This time around they take the form of saints. Yes, saints. Maybe not all the saints, but a hell of a lot of them. Drannan can see the saints. They do not sit back and take a passive role in the narrative either, no, they help Drannan with her crusade to find the truth, talking to her, warning her of trouble, and it must be said, many times, annoying the hell out of her.
There is also a secondary narrative which just about steals the show from the main one, and this smaller narrative adds so much to the overall novel, improving the story with its inclusion. Again, there is humour and darkness, but for me, this novel did not feel as dark as “Himself” and “Things in Jars”. Also, "The Hoarder" contains a poignancy and pathos not found in the other novels.
In my view this is the weakest of the three Kidd novels I have read, and I was going to give it four stars but the wonderful ending has enough strength to push it up to another five. 5 Stars.
Jess Kidd was brought up in London as part of a large family from county Mayo and has been praised for her unique fictional voice. Her debut, Himself, was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards in 2016. She won the Costa Short Story Award the same year. Her second novel, The Hoarder, published as Mr. Flood's Last Resort in the U.S. and Canada was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2019. Both books were BBC Radio 2 Book Club Picks. Her latest book, the Victorian detective tale Things in Jars, has been released to critical acclaim. Jess’s work has been described as ‘Gabriel García Márquez meets The Pogues.’
There is a tiny little video with Kidd talking about her inspiration for "The Hoarder" here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCYq0qxMYi0
Another great video is here -