Wednesday, 23 September 2009
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Penguin Fig Tree
A story about maids in the Deep South?
Don’t expect to put this book down once you pick it up - the story sucks you in and won’t let go. And it’s funny. Set in the 1960s, when Mississippi was the heartland of American apartheid, it’s about how the most powerless people start things changing.
Our heroes are saintly Aibileen, who loves her white boss’s neglected little daughter; Minny, the sassy-mouthed maid who’s the best cook in town; and Skeeter, a white girl who wants to be a writer. Skeeter is trying to find out what happened to Constantine, who brought her up - but no one will talk. And she’s consulting Minny for her house cleaning column.
Everyone has to start somewhere. Skeeter (so nicknamed because she’s skinny as a mosquito) writes a column on difficult stains, with advice from the expert: Minny, who has just been sacked by her white lady employer, Hilly Holbrook.
I sense a vicious villain?
Hilly is vile. She runs the bridge club, the ladies’ dances, the whole Jackson social scene, and she’s demonic in her control. Her ambition is to get people to instal outside toilets for the ‘help’ to use, so white bottoms don’t have to sit on the same toilet seats as black ones.
Lying Hilly has told everyone Minny is a thief. But Minny gets a job with the only one who hasn’t heard: Celia Rae Foote, a white-trash girl who married the man Hilly had her eye on.
Oooh, bad move
Worse, poor Celia doesn’t know what she’s done, and keeps trying to get in with Hilly and the ladies. Then Skeeter decides to write a book about maids in Jackson, and she gets together with Aibileen to collect all the maids’ stories.
Aren’t they scared?
Oh yes. But that’s what makes this story brilliant: the real horror amid the sugar-coated niceness. Funny, sad, angry: this book has everything.