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A Lively Irish World Full of Mischievous Ghosts and Guilty Characters

By LOAN LE

Loan Le is an editorial assistant at Atria/Keywords Press. She previously worked as an assistant at Gallery Books and Scout Press. Before joining S&S in May 2014, she was an editorial intern at Folio Literary Management and Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone imprint. She is the fiction editor of The Rag, a literary fiction magazine, and she is pursuing an MFA in fiction writing at Fairfield University, her alma mater. Loan also leads Young to Publishing’s writers group. She can be found on Twitter @loanloan and Instagram @loanloanle.

Working in editorial means that my inside voice is always “on” as I’m reading submissions, asking questions and keeping a list of pros and cons about the story. This voice even butts in to my time spent reading for pleasure, forcing me to analyze the words in front of me instead of just enjoying them. But when I picked up a copy of Jess Kidd’s HIMSELF, my editorial voice fell silent and the reader in me simply rejoiced.

With his devil-may-care looks and attitude, orphan Mahony arrives in the Irish village of Mulderrig to dig around for information about his late mother, Orla Sweeney, whose identity was only recently revealed to him in a mysterious letter. Mahony turns the town upside down investigating Orla’s suspected murder—not so much because of what’s said about his mother, but because of the villagers’ reticence upon hearing her name. Mahony quickly discovers his homecoming nettles not only the people who live there, but also the ghosts, whom he can see just as he sees any living person . . . Even the dead have something to say, but it won’t be easy with them, either.

This author knows how to have fun. Kidd’s imagination runs free, seamlessly weaving reality with the supernatural; a cast of pitiful, flesh-and-blood villagers with curious ghosts and a forest that hides a dark secret. So, charmed by her storytelling, I think it’s impossible to favor the living over the dead. There is really only one world: Mahony’s lively world full of mischievous ghosts and guilty characters.

And how well Kidd knows her characters! From the hapless inn owner Shauna, stumbling in love with Mahony, to the unholy priest Father Quinn, you will surely have your favorite pick for different reasons. I was stuck between Mahony and Mrs. Cauley, an eccentric, supernaturally inclined actress past her glory days—though readers might wonder if she even actually had them. Under the guise of casting roles for an upcoming play, the unlikely pair plan to weed out Orla’s murderer. This setup may sound absurd once spoken aloud, yet on the page it’s exactly the plan you would expect from Mrs. Cauley and Mahony.

With a knack for creating interesting characters and bending the line between the living and the ghostly realms, Jess Kidd makes this novel such a pleasure to read.


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