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Kathryn Stockett has only written one book. So far. It’s called The Help, and it’s a classic.
It takes place in the Jackson, Mississippi, at the beginning of the 1960s, as the Civil Rights movement was just beginning to gain momentum.
It’s told through the eyes of Eugenia Phelan, or ‘Skeeter’ (named after a mosquito by her brother because she was such a long and skinny baby).
Out of sync with contemporaries
She returns home after University filled with desire to become a writer, and is immediately out of sync with all her contemporaries, who are all getting married and having babies.
Skeeter gets a job on the local newspaper writing household hints, and enlists the help of Aibileen, the ‘maid’ of one of her old friends.
She is also upset because her beloved family maid Constantine, who raised her, has been sacked while she was away and nobody will talk about what happened or where she went.
Learning about the life of the maids
As Skeeter gets to know Aibileen and her friend Minnie, she starts to become interested in the real lives of the maids, and determines to write a book of interviews with maids to tell their side of the story.
For the maids, this would be an invitation to violence or even death, and they’re very unwilling to help her. At first.
Kathryn Stockett’s achievements are huge in this novel. She draws a clear picture of the white women and their obsessions with family and children and social status, and juxtaposes this with the feelings of Skeeter, who is being pushed into conforming just as she is becoming more and more alienated from them.
The book also brings the lives of the maids and their families to life, showing in unsparing detail what it is really like to be a subject race.
An inspirational book
All this sounds very worthy, but Kathryn Stockett gives such clear voices to a large variety of unforgettable characters, most particularly Aibileen and Minnie, and she fills the novel with fantastic humour and joy to counteract the fear and pain. She also brings vividly alive that whole world, as it starts to shift and pivot.
The Help is an inspirational book, a joy to read, and explores a wealth of themes, all within a fascinating story filled with incident, colour, and above all, character.
I’m really looking forward to Kathryn Stockett’s next book.