The Help: Readable, with chills

I have a bad habit.

I have a habit of avoiding reading a book if it’s ‘too popular’, if it’s being read by everyone else. It does me no favours, I’ve missed out on many interesting novels as a result, but I am gradually learning my lesson.

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was one such book. I put off picking up this novel, despite being told it was a really fascinating, moving story. Likewise, I’ve not seen the film, although it’s on my to-do-list now. I can’t help thinking it’d have been a real shame if I’d missed this incredibly readable novel.

This month’s TBYL Book Club book, I am so looking forward to hearing what you think about this thought-provoking story:

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

There’s Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son’s tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from College, who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared.

Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they’d be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in a search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell…

The first thing to say about this novel is that it is entertaining. I was completely immersed in the time and place. The recreation of 1960s America was fascinating, complete with authentic referencing of events, personalities, fashion and music. And of course its prejudices. I was intrigued, and horrified by the picture painted of Jackson, Mississippi, and most particularly of the women who inhabited its houses – their habits, their polite society, and of course their matter-of-fact, day-to-day racism. Their attitudes and bizarre logics were disturbing, but from those who made the hard choice to buck the trend, inspiration could be drawn.

Hilly has few redeeming features, and it’s through her and her influence that we experience the most overt prejudice.

Skeeter is the quiet, brave voice of reason, who firstly with a whisper and then with a shout, calls out these women on their horrible behaviour. Still, although Skeeter is the voice, it’s Aibileen who provides the words. It’s only through her quiet defiance and refreshing honesty that a small step-change is made possible in the cloistered, old-fashioned town.

I was impressed with how Stockett was able to make it quite clear that Jackson, Mississippi was not indicative of the whole of the US in this time, but she nonetheless highlighted beautifully the path that America has travelled, and is still traveling in its move away from a culture of slavery, prejudice and contridictions.

It’s a clever novel, and as I’ve said, incredibly readable. It has its dark moments, its humour and its moments of inspiration. It’s well worth a read, and will no doubt prompt many moments of quite reflection. It’s a great book to share with fellow readers.

I hope you’ll join us while we read this book during May for the TBYL Book Club. You can join the club here!

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. subtlekate
    May 04, 2012 @ 10:05:52

    I suffer from this myself. I’ve been looking at this one and I am going to take your word for it and plunge.


  2. Jackie Small (@littlebookcase)
    May 06, 2012 @ 21:54:05

    I agree entirely with you. I don’t do it so much with books but definitely movies- I avoid them if I hear too many comments. And, when I do see/read them I’m almost always disappointed- there is just too much hype.

    Sadly, I did actually feel this way with The Help. It really was a beautiful, clever and well-written book but something was missing for me. I know why it was missing. I started speaking to people about the book early before I’d finished it. I said something along the lines of, “I’m enjoying it, but I already feel like I have already read this story”- I had studied some American History at Uni. Most people responded by telling me that this one was different.

    And so, I kept waiting for that something different. I even had myself convinced at some point that Skeeter was Constantine’s real daughter and she was fired because she actually sent the real Phelan daughter away so she could stay with her own. (How far-fetched is that?) Needless to say, I was disappointed.

    This expectation was completely and utterly my fault- not Kathryn’s- but it was based on the hype around the book.

    Having said all of that. I loved the style and cleverness of the book. I loved that we were actually reading the book that the ladies had written. I think Kathryn was very respectful in her approach towards the book and the characters were extremely believable. Like you, I was certainly immersed into the era.


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