Mysterious and lyrical, Jess Kidd’s first novel, Himself, introduces the inhabitants of a village in County Mayo, Ireland, after the return of its most unfortunate son. Kidd wraps readers up in her tale like a mother swaddling a child—only in this case, not for safekeeping. In the curious village of Mulderrig, nothing is as safe as it seems.
It’s April 1976. Mahony, orphaned in Dublin 26 years prior, has followed a note—penned on the back of a photograph of him and his mother—to the place of his birth and, possibly, his mother’s death. Back in 1950, the town branded his mum Orla a witch, a whore, an outcast. The many rumors about what happened to her persist, confusing Mahony in his search for truth.
Strange things begin to happen when the handsome, dark-eyed Mahony steps foot in Mulderrig. Like his mother before him, Mahony can see and talk to the dead. The town’s eccentric Mrs. Cauley senses this, as she has some otherworldly tricks up her own sleeve. To find out what happened to his mum, Mahony and the meddling Mrs. Cauley conduct interrogations of both the living and the dead. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it quickly becomes apparent that some people want Mahony gone, for good.
Moving between Mahony’s present and the village’s past, Himself is spun like a fairy tale and paced like a mystery told around a slowly fading campfire. Kidd is brilliant at setting the scene and painting it vividly with a twisted, comic voice. A Bogeyman haunts the forest, a protected island in the river only appears at low tide, and a holy well springs up in the middle of the priest’s library. Mahoney’s presence seems to trigger this and other chaos as it forces the villagers to deal with the demons they’ve tried to bury.
In Himself, the author revels in the magical and supernatural, deftly and often humorously melding superstition and folklore with real personal tragedy.