After reading The Book Whisperer’s glowing review of The Help by Kathryn Stockett I knew that I had to get my hands on a copy and sure enough I was lucky enough to spot it on the new arrivals shelf at my local library. Joy!
The Help, is set in the early 60’s in Jackson, Missisippi where black maids raise white children but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver. The story is told from three perspectives starting with the voice of warm-hearted Aibileen who is maid to the Leefolt family and takes more care of their little girl than the mother, Elizabeth ever does. Then there is Minny, an excellent cook with a sharp tongue which gets her into trouble and adds a good deal of humour to the story. Finally Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, is a 22 year old aspiring writer whose unlikely relationship with Aibleen and Minny begins after she gets a job at the local newspaper writing a weekly cleaning column.
I loved reading The Help. While I didn’t want to put it down, I also found myself taking my time with it because I simply didn’t want it to end! I found myself smirking at Minny’s bad behaviour, gaping open-mouthed at the hideous behavour of the maid’s employers, and I had to try very hard not to cry in some of the more moving moments.
The charactarisation in the book is fantastic. Because of the first person narrative, I really felt that I got to know Aibleen, Minny and Skeeter and I was impressed with the authenticity of their voices. I also appreciated that Stockett took the effort to give a little bit of background at the end of the novel about where the book came from and how she struggled with representing the voices of black maids in the 60’s. It confirmed for me that The Help was a truly heartfelt novel.
Stockett uses lots of historical and cultural references to give context to the situation. For me these gave a real sense of how the town of Jackson was so unmoving in an era of change. This became particulary acute when the backward views of the inhabitants of the town are put into the context of a country that was about to put a man on the moon!
The Help, is an absolutely wonderful story of friendship and bravery which tackles the subject of racism from a totally new perspective. The heavy and light-hearted moments are perfectly balanced and Stockett conveys tragedy with subtlety. This book made me want to sit around the kitchen table with Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter, while reminding me how glad I am to be living in an era where racial attidutes have changed so much. I’m certain that this will be one of my favourite books of 2010.
9 out of 10
What books have you read lately that really moved you?