The Help

December 8, 2011

Let’s all gather round my virtual fire and have a lovely cosy chat about our latest Book Club offering, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. That’s right, pull up a chair, let me pour you a cup of tea and pass you a slice of coffee and walnut cake, just to get the thought processes going on this chilly day.

I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy read, on a hard subject. It deals with the servants hired by rich women in the southern states of America in the 1960s. Not to beat about the bush, the maids are black, the employers are white. The story is told by two of the maids, and a daughter of one of the wealthy families. The daughter, Skeeter, realises when her own maid disappears one summer just how much she owes this woman, who has virtually brought her up. Meanwhile Skeeter’s actual mother makes no effort to understand her daughter and spends her days trying to marry her off, without much thought to her chances of happiness.

I was astonished to hear that this assured work is Stockett’s first novel, and even more surprised to learn that she was turned down by 60 literary agents before she found someone to represent her. Then, when I thought about it a bit harder, I realised that the race issue is still virtually untouchable in the US, and very thorny also in the UK. Would a similar book frighten the horses here in Britain? Probably, if it was written by a white woman, as The Help was.

What a dream come true for Stockett, whose book, rejected by so many, has now sold zillions and been made into a film. It is, of course, the fantasy happy ending every struggling novelist secretly prays for – including this one!

But I’m wandering away from the novel. I liked the first person narrative style, making each story personal and compelling. For me, though, the book risked becoming saccharine, but was saved by the abrasive character of Minny, who has been sacked by 19 employers, and I’m afraid , while sympathising and rooting for Minny all the way, you can completely see why she was let go so many times. Of course, the final part of the novel, which I won’t reveal (hoping you haven’t already seen the film) is immensely satisfying as a result.

All in all, a great book, and one I’d thoroughly recommend for the Christmas holidays. I hope that Stockett is not too brow-beaten by the reception of the novel (she was sued by her brother’s maid and lambasted by various organisations) to stop. I’m dying to see what she comes up with next.

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  • Five Go Blogging December 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Loved, loved, loved it!
    Yes there may have been a little sugar coating along the way but with some of the sour opinions and experiences this novel portrays, it was needed.
    You can read my review here.

    • Dulwich Divorcee December 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm

      Fabulous – I’m going to bob over to your place and have a browse, thank you!

  • Milla December 8, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    great, I see the silver star’s still up for grabs (!)
    I loved this book (read about 9 months ago, so details drowned in wine since). I possibly liked it especially since I came to it with the same curled lip of disdain that saw me opening Time Travellers’ Wife and Shadow of the Wind, snarling stuff about popular pap, and pah. And then I loved the lot of them. What’s great about the Help is the almost perfect structure, it never flags, it bobs happily and naturally between the three narrators without dragging or you thinking, Oh, God, back to *her* …. secondly you care about the characters, from the maligned maids in their dismal conditions to poor old Skeeter trapped in the times as much as them, although, obviously, differently. There is a pleasant amount of come-uppance and neat (but not annoying) end tyings. Did 60 literary agents REALLY reject this? I follow a few on Twitter, mainly to eye boggle, frankly at their ghastliness – are some of them aware of just how much they leak in 140 chars??? – but not to see the commercial gold of this is surprising.

    • Dulwich Divorcee December 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm

      You’ve definitely won the silver star, Milla, great review – I agree there was definitely a pleasant amount of come-uppance, always very satisfying. I’d love to know which agents you follow on Twitter. My own agent is fab but it’s a strange business I think.

  • Emma December 8, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    I haven’t read this or seen the movie but I definitely want to read the book now x

    • Dulwich Divorcee December 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm

      It’s definitely highly recommended – maybe put it on your Christmas list? An easy read but dealing with very thought-provoking themes x

  • Naomi Richards December 9, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    You are not the first to mention this book recently. I must read it following the one I am reading about sexualisation of girls.

    • Dulwich Divorcee December 9, 2011 at 4:49 pm

      Hi Naomi, well, I can guarantee it’ll be a more uplifting read than the one you’re finishing now! Seriously, it’s a fun read but shocking subject matter so definitely worthwhile if you’ve got time 🙂

  • Jane Alexander December 9, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Okay, here, dragged kicking and cursing from Twitter (muttering darkly). I loved this book. Blogged about it, if my memory serves, which (frankly) it doesn’t. Pretty much what Milla said…the shifting narratives are all distinctive and fresh. Also, no matter how much we may think we know about this oh so recent form of society, it still came (to me) as a HUGE eye-opener. A separate loo for the maid? FFS.
    Yes, sickening that it’s her first novel (SO want to hate her – 🙂 ) and I hadn’t realised she had been sued etc.
    And OH YES to some agents on Twitter! Ditto some authors. I had to stop following Carole Blake for example and also Susan Hill who just made my jaw DROP with their total unfeeling arrogance. But hey…if their friends and family read this – what do I know?? Struggling and Desperate of Exmoor backing away and signing out. xx

    • Dulwich Divorcee December 9, 2011 at 4:53 pm

      Ah, Jane, you are so fab, I knew we could reel you in to the book club if I just nagged you night and day for three months …. and hey presto, here you are. Lovely to have you aboard. I completely agree, huge eye-opener and reveals a lot of nasties lurking only just beneath the veneer of a certain sort of society. Fascinating re Susan Hill – love her detective series but don’t love her others, Carole Blake I shall also have to take a peek at … While I’m jealous of Stockett’s massive success her kind of Cinderella story does give all struggling writers hope I think – so don’t despair, we’ll get there! And when we do it’ll be mohitos all round 🙂 xx