Book review: The Help (Kathryn Stockett)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa.

A lot of people have said a lot of things about Kathryn Stockett’s completely brilliant debut novel, The Help; among them:

“…immensely funny…” – Daily Telegraph

“A laugh-out-loud…must-read” – Marie Claire

“Touching, disgraceful, funny.” – Daily Mail

I’m sorry – are we talking about the same book here? I’m prepared to put money on the fact that none of the reviewers quoted above are South African.

Because only a South African, raised by a nanny, used to having a full-time maid around and used to being raised, in many cases, by two moms – one white and one black – can appreciate that this is a sad book.

A masterfully written book, yes. A tragicomic book, yes. But a heart-breaking book, above all. Maybe I’m making too much of it. It’s possible. Read the book yourself, and let me know. To start with, here’s the blurb:

“Enter a vanished world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver…”

That world hasn’t vanished, okes. Not really.

Granted, there are no separate water fountains, no separate counters at the grocery store, no separate seats on the bus – but there were more recently than 1962 and a lot of what’s in this book rings very true for me. Okay. Rant over.

Stockett’s The Help is spectacular. Each of its three narrators, Minny, Aibileen and Skeeter, have her own voice; her own way of explaining what’s going down in segregationist Jackson. And regardless of who’s talking, you can’t put it down.

Here’s Aibileen:

“I arrange the-this and the-that for her lady friends. Set out the good crystal, put the silver service out. Miss Leefolt don’t put up no dinky card table like the other ladies do. We set at the dining room table. Put a cloth on top to cover the big L-shaped crack, move that red flower centerpiece to the sideboard to hide where the wood all scratched. Miss Leefolt, she like it fancy when she do a luncheon. Maybe she trying to make up for her house being small. They ain’t rich folks, that I know. Rich folk don’t try so hard.”

There’ve been so many rave reviews. This book is the must-read of the year. Even the one-book-a-month bookclub bobbas are reading it. But the only reviewer with whom I agree is the legendary Marian Keyes, with her “Daring, vitally important and very courageous.”

She clearly got it. Must be because she’s Irish.