The Help

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The Help, Kathryn Stockett, book reviewKathryn Stockett’s The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s, during the Civil Rights movement. Life in Jackson, however, does not really seem to be changing. The Help is a story of two black maids (the help), and one white woman who writes a book about the experiences of maids in Jackson.

The style of The Help throws you slightly at first, written as it is in a first-person Southern US twang – perhaps you could call it an accent or dialect, but neither seems quite right. This is particularly noticeable in the sections narrated by Aibileen and Minny, the maids. Yet once you get into the swing of it, the style is an integral part of the novel. It helps transport you to Jackson in the 1960s, and really gives a sense of place – the style even helps to convey the summer, as that way of speaking is synonymous with the hot southern states.

The story of The Help is very interesting, and shows how segregated the USA was in the not so distant past. This side of the novel was actually quite hard for me to grasp. I found it difficult to comprehend this place and time with its inherent racism, it being so different to anything I have know. The Help is very easy to place in time, thanks to the style of writing and how well Stockett portrays day-to-day life, and perhaps this is what made it hard to grasp – the 1960s are not long ago.

As for the story itself, it is certainly gripping. I became attached to the three women, and caught up in the excitement of the book they worked on together, as well as the risks they were taking in writing it. There is plenty of tension throughout the novel as the women work on the book, always afraid of being caught, and this really keeps you turning the pages as you wonder whether someone is suddenly going to realise what they are doing, or, after publication, who wrote it and who the maids interviewed were.

My only complaint about the novel would be the ending. It is left rather open for all three women, and we don’t know how things will work out for them. As I was attached to them by the end of the novel, I wanted to know that they would definitely have a happy ending. On the other hand however, you could look at this ambiguity as one of the novel’s strengths: if this were reality, and these three women had published a tell-all book about the lives of black maids in 1960s Jackson, things wouldn’t end all neatly tied up. There would be uncertainty about their futures, just as Stockett has written in The Help.

The Help is a really enjoyable read – well written, tense, and educational at the same time. It is Kathryn Stockett’s only novel to date, but I look forward to her future work.

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The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

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Written by eilidhcatriona

A Scottish lass in her late twenties living in London. A prolific reader always interested in something new.

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