Hi everyone, I hope you are well. Today I’m reviewing The Hoarder by Jess Kidd, which I was kindly given by Canongate via Netgalley. Our protagonist is Maud Drennan, a carer originally from Ireland who now lives in a maisonette with the agoraphobic Renata and a group of saints who can only be seen by her. Maud is sent by her agency to care for and clean up after the cantankerous Cathal Flood, living alone in the once grand house Bridlemere. His wife Mary died a few years ago and his relationship with son Gabriel is testy, so Maud is his only real companion. However, as Maud begins to clean up Bridlemere, the house starts to reveal clues to its sinister past. Can Maud and Renata uncover the dark secret which haunts both the house and the family? And can Maud finally recall what happened to her sister in Ireland years previously?
I love a creepy house story. Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Little Stranger, you name it – if it features a sinister manor or haunted house I have probably read it or it is sitting on my TBR. And The Hoarder certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard. The descriptions of Bridlemere are so vivid that you feel you are there, I could smell the wet earth and dusty scent. The sights and smells are beautifully evoked by Kidd, and gives you a real sense of the house and its dilapidation. I could picture the rooms and garden easily. Bridlemere, like many grand houses before it, plays a major part in the story and feels like a character rather than a mere backdrop.
Kidd has also admirably taken this grand, sinister house from its usual historical setting and placed it in the modern world. I really enjoyed this aspect, and it was fun reading a Gothic story in this context. While we still have the staples of a haunted house such as forbidden rooms and mysterious creaking in shadowy corners, Kidd injects something new. Instead of a locked door, a part of the house is blocked off by a wall of National Geographics. Whilst there was imagery evoking earlier Gothic stories, and I was reminded of things such as Bluebeard’s Castle and Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’ when reading, there was also plenty of current pop culture references. The mash-up of the old and the new was fascinating and really made the novel stand out.
The characterisations of Maud and Cathal were also highlights for me. Their banter was well-written, funny at one point then suddenly becoming quite tense. You never quite knew how Cathal would react or what would happen next. This gave their conversations, though often lighthearted, a sense of dread especially when Cathal becomes a figure of suspicion. Maud’s witty, dry observations and religious leanings reminded me a little of Jane Eyre, though like with Bridlemere, I think Kidd does subvert this idea. Maud feels like a much more troubled, world-weary character than Jane, and I think that’s what makes her an interesting character to read about.
The one thing I didn’t like was the frequent conversations with the saints. At points they reminded me of Gods in Ancient Greek literature, commenting on the unfolding plot. However most of the time they reminded me of the ‘inner goddess’ of Fifty Shades of Grey and (sorry E.L James fans) that put me right off. They also were quite distracting, especially in the second half of the novel. I would be gripped by the mystery, heart pounding and then ripped out of the story because St Valentine or George was doing something irrelevant. I understand their significance in the story but I felt they were overused and became annoying by the end.
Overall I really enjoyed The Hoarder. This was a very clever, well-written take on a haunted house story. The characters were beautifully drawn and Bridlemere was very atmospheric. I’ve never read Kidd’s first novel but I will pick it up in the future as she has a great writing style. If you like a good literary mystery (who doesn’t?) then you should definitely check out this.
The Hoarder will be published by Canongate on 1st February 2018. For more information click here.