on 28 June 2009
When a book makes you occasionally laugh out loud, has your eyes brimming with tears or has you shouting at the pages through empathy and anger, you know the author has a very rare talent. 'The Help' is one such book. I have not enjoyed a tome so immensely since Michel Faber's 'The Crimson Petal and the White'.
The story is told through three wonderfully real female characters; Minny, Aibileen and Miss Skeeter. The location is Jackson, Mississippi and it's the early 1960s - a turbulent time as the civil rights movement thunders along to the chagrin of many bigoted fools. One visionary in the small town defies her heritage and vows to make a difference and with the aid of the local maids, begins a project which will create havoc for those with lofty positions and appalling attitudes. Within the pages of the book, we are privy to scenes of amazing warmth, great humour and delightful characters with whom you'd love to spend time. Kathryn Stockett has also created one of the most venomous villains since Cruella de Vil and at times I found myself cursing this woman as if I knew her personally.
Vital, engrossing and utterly compelling, 'The Help' is a book I'd urge anyone to read.
I finished this book this afternoon after trying to drag out the ending as long as possible. I did not want to leave these characters behind; I wanted to continue on their journey with them, make sure they were OK ¨C I miss them already.
I have been hearing about this book and have read lots of positive reviews for the longest time but sometimes I get put off by books that have so much hype around them and end up passing them by. Oh how glad I am that I didn¡¯t do this with The Help. It is worth every glowing review, every recommendation and every superlative ever written about it.
The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 and is narrated by three women in turn. Aibileen and Minny are black maids and Miss Skeeter is a white college graduate who mourns the disappearance of her old maid and wants to do something more with her life than marry a local boy and have her kids raised by maids.
The story takes us with these women as the embark on a dangerous journey to try and change decades of prejudice and pave the way for a better life for the next generations. Through the words of each of these women we learn how rife racism and intolerance was back in the 1960¡äs deep south. There are tales of unbelievable cruelty and humiliation but also tales of tenderness and real love. It was so good to hear a story told primarily from the point of view of the black maids too and refreshing to hear both sides in all its rawness; the distrust and even hatred on both sides. The book also successfully managed to avoid being sensational or over-egging the pudding. Despite the subject matter (which is so important) the book never feels too heavy or preachy: it is as light as one of Minny¡¯s famous caramel cakes and aswell as riotously funny and tender.
I implore you to read this book ¨C you will fall in love with Aibileen, roar with laughter at Minny and rootfor Miss Skeeter for 450 pages. And I guarantee that Miss Hilly is one of the best bitches you will come across in any book! She is truly awful but so brilliantly drawn and you will root for her to get her just desserts (pun intended).
I feel like I have lost friends now I have finished this book. It is a true gem and I highly, highly recommend.
on 29 April 2011
As a bloke I found this a bit of a 'difficult purchase'; It's pitched (quite strongly... and wrongly) as a book for women, which rather does the book a total disservice. Even my wife looked at me oddly and said, "really?" when I made my mind up to buy it. Good leap on my part, that's all I can say!
To any blokes out there who are hesitant, teetering on the edge, this book is *not* a book for women. Nothing of the sort. It's about women. And, in my opinion, it should become compulsory reading in schools. Although it deals with the plight of black maids is 1960s Mississippi it is striking how the stories can still be superimposed over lives even today...and that is frightening. So it's relevant, but also it's funny, sad, shocking, and moving. Don't be fooled (I know I shouldn't have been) by the picture of a pretty blonde on the back cover, you'll discover that Kathryn Stockett's writing is beguiling and captivating. I really couldn't put this book down. The relationships are, at times, uncomfortably revealing, and the characters are so brilliantly crafted you know you're going to miss them at the end...
My wife now wants to read this, and my sister. But they'll have to wait or buy a copy, as I'm going to give it to someone else I know first. Someone I've known for 20 years, who may see himself and the world a little differently after he's read this book. :-D
on 3 March 2010
It is not often I leave reviews, however this book deserves all the praise in the world and more! I have just finished reading this book and I have that empty and sense of loss feeling that comes with finishing a really good book. It is absolutely brilliant, I just couldnt put it down. The author has an amazing ability to transport you into each characters world and envision the stage of the characters. I came to love each character in the book and almost felt like they became my good friends by the last page. The book had me absolutely gripped and had me experience a range of emotions, one minute I was laughing out loud, the next almost in tears. It is very rare that a book be so successful at transporting me so effectively and willingly into the characters world. I really truly enjoyed this wonderful book.
on 6 April 2010
I could not fault this book, if you want a book which keeps you turning the pages then you cannot go far wrong. I would recommend this to anyone as it is so well written, I really enjoyed this window on these women's lives, and having worked myself as a domestic cleaner there are elements which I can really identify with, even just cleaning houses you end up knowing more about some aspects of the occupants than probably their closest friends do.......its a weird position to be in and you often know things that you perhaps would rather not have found out. I hope there will be more books of this standard from this author.
This is a brave book that views the American Civil Rights movement largely through the eyes of the people at its sharp end - the black maids who looked after white folks children. This gives the book an authentic period feel and draws the reader in so that they feel transported to the early 1960s - the period the book is set in. The author, however, Miss Stockett, also draws some impressive white characters - especially the poor, ill-educated Miss Celia - a character who could give the average Big Brother contestant a run for their money in the intellectual stakes!
The book is funny in places and certainly makes the reader feel empathy towards the poor, the put upon and the neglected. The only drawback is the language used - as the authentic '60s American style is not so easily read by a 2009 Englishman! Still, I praised the book for its authenticity so you can't have it both ways.
If you like this I also recommend other books about race and the struggle for freedom:One Love Two Colours: The Unlikely Marriage of a Punk Rocker and His African Queen by Margaret Oshindele (my wife) - a book about a successful inter-racial marriage and Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany - the true story of a mixed race boy growing up in Nazi Germany. Both are extremely interesting reads that leave the reader thinking about their own prejudices and stereotypes.
on 24 May 2012
This is the best book I've read in a long, long, LONG time. And that's coming from a girl who reads a lot. This incredible book is told in three separate and astoundingly clear first-person narrative voices.
The first voice belongs to Aibileen, a wise and godly black woman who is employed in a household where she is raising the child of her white employers. The little girl, Mae Mobley, is an adorable kid who seems damned to follow in the ignorant footsteps of her awful parents. That is, until Aibileen decides that she can save her; she can teach the child that black people ARE people. This is something that many of the white characters seem to have forgotten.
The novel is set in 1962, after Ms Parks decided she deserved to sit wherever she damn well pleased on that bus... but the white population of Mississippi begs to differ. Rosa parks might have convinced people that she was good enough to sit where she liked, but one of the key images of Stockett's text is that of lavatory segregation! The white housewife for whom Aibileen works has a separate toilet built so that they won't have to share a toilet! The idea that black people carry strange diseases is discussed and agreed upon by the cloistered, ignorant white housewives. This forced segregation is one of the catalysts for Aibileen's determination to make sure that little May Mobley doesn't grow up to be just like her mother.
Aibileen's is a calm voice, under which lies years of sadness, resentment, feelings of insignificance and above all, fear.
The second narrative voice is that of Minny. How I loved this woman! At first I thought that perhaps she was something of a stereotype: she's sassy, a great cook, proud, boisterous and she just can't keep a lid on her sarcasm. Her narrative cracked me up and saddened me at the same time. It's just so unfair that such a bright and vivid character sho be so subjugated by the brain-dead harem of ninnies who run the town. However, underneath all of that sass, Minny is a beaten wife with too many kids and an inability to hold down a job because of her smart mouth.
These white ladies are led by the vicious Miss Hilly, an antagonist who I thoroughly enjoyed hating. On the one hand, Miss Hilly is strong enough to be the queen of the stinging ants nest of white wives, so in that respect she's preferable to some of the snivelling "ladies" of the book. Still, I loved despising her.
The third narrative is that of Skeeter. She is a young, white college graduate who has achieved a lot for a woman of her time, but she has not achieved anything important, at least not as far as society is concerned: not as far as her mother is concerned. After all, there's no ring on her finger, is there? Skeeter's character provides a balance to the story, making it something more poignant somehow. The educated white woman is suddenly confronted with the understanding that not all is right in good ol' Mississippi. She feels trapped and this allows her to relate, if only just a little, with the black women of the town. I loved that she felt guilty about this sense of connection, knowing that she is still a privileged individual.
Instead of moping about her lot, Skeeter gets the idea to write down the stories of "The Help" of the town. The problem is, with the lynchings, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, talks of negro diseases, along with dozens and dozens of other more private horrors faced by the black women, they are too afraid to talk.
It's important to say that when the stories do start to spill out, not all of them are terrible. Plenty of the maids talk about the great kindnesses that their employers showed them. The book conveys the idea that the world in which it is set is a changing one. Not everyone is stuck in the terrible dark age of segregation or apartheid. White people aren't demonized and black people aren't deified. The villain of the text is ignorance and narrow-mindedness. The hero of the piece is the bravery of the women to break their silences and just try to make a difference.
This book is truly amazing. The only aspect which disappointed me is that it was written so recently. I wish it had been written fifty years ago because then it would truly reflect the idea of broken silences and bravery. As it stands, however, as an educated reflection on the past, it is a wonderful book. When I closed the last page, I instantly began to miss Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. I hoped and prayed that Mae Mobley would turn out good. I even missed my animosities for Miss Hilly. I'll read this one over and over. You can pretty much guarantee that this is going to be on school curricula some day, being read alongside Rees, Morrison and Angelou.
If you want an extra special treat, I whole-heartedly suggest you listen to the audiobook. Stockett's voices are truly brought to life in this medium.
I just finished reading The Help and I am feeling that sense of loss that you get after reading a really good book. This is the story of three women living in Mississipi in 1962. Two are black women who work as maids, the third (Skeeter) is a white woman who longs to be a writer. It's a time and place when women's options in life are few: black women go into service and white women are expected to marry and raise children. Even job advertisements are divided, not just by race, but also by gender. Relationships between black maids and their white bosses are governed by complicated and unspoken rules: black maids can soothe their bosses through miscarriages and raise the children, but they can't share the same eating utensils or toilets.
In this environment, the idea that Skeeter would ever be friends with the other two women seems absurd, but that's what happens over the course of the book as they collaborate on a dangerous and secret project together.
The book is narrated by each woman in turn and they all became such real and dear people to me. It's a cliche but it genuinely is one of those books that makes you cry and makes you smile.
A great story with wonderful characters that keeps you enthralled right to the end, but more than that it also makes you think about the assumptions that we make about others and the way that we treat others. I highly recommend The Help.
on 11 June 2009
Wow! As a child watching Gone with the Wind, I always wondered how 'mammy' really felt being a black woman in the deep south, I think this book tries to address this very question. The three main characters in this book are beautifully fleshed out & each very likeable, strong women. This is the civil rights movement from a womans perspective but intelligently told from every angle, rich & poor, black & white, privilaged & margionalised. This is also old fashioned story telling at its best, it is well paced & although it deals with a very serious subject, there is wonderful humour throughout. Roll on the next Kathryn Stockett novel, I'll be first in the que.
on 6 September 2009
There are so many things to love about this book - the characters, the plot and the settings - thoroughly enjoyable! My only criticism is that it lacked enough punch for me to be able to upgrade it to a 5 star read (...and I really wanted for it to be worth that extra star!).
I'm not American and I don't have any links to the deep south...I therefore don't have any authority to say this but...I felt a strong level of authenticity in the 'voice' of all three of the narrative strands, which made the book a delight to read. I can only imagine how difficult it would be for a white writer to be able to step into the shoes of those black maids but for me, Kathryn Stockett has pulled it off.
The Minny/Celia elements of the narrative were my favourites. I loved Minny's brash humour and the fact that her 'sass-mouthing' got her into all ends of trouble! I also liked Stockett's juxtaposition of the race debate with the exploration of white-trash/society prejudice throughout this section of the narrative. For me, this gave an extra layer to the hypocrisy of supposedly civilised societies all over the world. - I particularly loved the scene where Minny was decrying the fact the Celia "...just don't see em. The lines." forcing Aibileen to 'philosophise' that those lines don't exist, that "...People like Miss Hilly is always trying to make us believe they there. But they ain't". Aibileen finishes off with the lovely phrase "...All I'm saying is, kindness don't have no boundaries." I feel this sentiment reached its climax through Aibileen's final scenes with Mae Mobley, following on the back of the earlier stories about 'Martian Luther King' and the candy wrapped in white and black wrapping. You know when reading the ending that Mae Mobley has some hard times ahead of her without Aibileen protecting her precious self-esteem with those words of wisdom.
There was a wonderfully written bittersweet river that coursed its way throughout the novel providing added depth to the whole story. I loved the inner beauty of Celia and Johnny's relationship, which was cast against the sadness that they'll never have children. The complex love that Skeeter's mother held for her daughter cast against serious illness and her treatment of Constantine. Stuart's laudable attempts to protect Skeeter's reputation but his final inability to follow through and marry the woman he obviously loved...and the irony that his final act helped to set her free to pursue her career in New York. The strength of Minny fighting injustice in her own inimitable way while at the same time putting up with such terrible treatment from her husband. The cruelty of Hilly's outward-facing persona contrasted with her obviously superior skills as a loving mother. The extraordinary kindness of Lou Anne Templeton to Louvvenia when her grandson is blinded after being beaten for using the white bathroom cast against her own sadness and mental health issues. The surprising levels of comfort many of these women get from each other that defies the boundaries of class and colour...I could go on and on and on about all the elements of this book that touched me.
When all is said and done the relationships between these women is far more complex than I'd ever imagined and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to read about them in this novel. In a perfect world I'd have liked to see Stockett deal a little more deeply with the effects of the extreme violence throughout the period of the civil rights movement in Mississippi. The historical, factual detail wasn't there in enough abundance for me - the shooting of Medgar Evers for example was an opportunity missed. And the lack of recriminations from the publication of the book was a bit of an anti-climax, much as I enjoyed seeing the Hilly Holbrook stranglehold loosened ever so slightly!
I would strongly recommend this book - I think this is one I'll re-read in a few years time and I know that it's going to stay with me. Overall and extremely satisfying read.