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The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is story-telling at its absolute finest. The plot is thick, yet the story quite simple, the writing is superb but doesn’t become the Thing itself. You’ve got a great story, a brilliant but flawed cast, a heroine (or three), a wonderfully bitchy antagonist, and a slow-brewing climax. What more could you want? Well I can tell you what you don’t want – you don’t want a writer overshadowing it all with displays of their own brilliance. Fortunately, Stockett doesn’t disappoint. In fact, she’s so good at her craft, it’s like she’s not even there.

One thing I found rather unsettling (and I recall having read about this in papers on gender development) is the knowledge that it is often women – not men – responsible for repressing other women. In this book we see white women repressing black women (though not as a rule), but there are many other examples where women are complicit, if not at times directly responsible, for a great many abuses of other women’s rights (prostitution, human trafficking, genital mutilation). But even at the much more insidious level i.e. simply prejudging one another (working women “vs” stay at home mums, mothers “vs” childless women).

I know Stockett has been criticised for her apparent arrogance in attempting to inhabit the life and voice of a black woman of the deep South the 1960s, and many other intellectual flaws besides, but I think this is harsh. It’s clearly a work of fiction; I never felt as though I ought to be taking an education from it. Anyway, how often do we hear Louis de Bernieres criticised for having the gumption to write his female protagonists in the first person? (the opposite in fact – he’s frequently asked how it is that he can capture the female psyche SO well). Anyway, I just think that the book should be taken, and thoroughly enjoyed, at face value.

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