Thursday, 17 May 2012

Book Review: The Help

You’re welcomed to Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960’s by the humbling voice of Aibileen, the help of Elizabeth Leefolt. Her job? To clean and raise white children: currently she’s raising Mae Mobley. She’s raised more white children than most of the help in the town, most have all grown up, have help of their own. But they’re her only family around. Her son was killed a little while ago.
Her best friend, Minny, can’t hold her tongue to save her life. She keeps getting fired for her attitude, well, actually, she has no attitude. She speaks the truth. The white people don’t like hearing it. But there’s one person who doesn’t mind the truth. Skeeter, whose just returned home from graduating University. She wants to write, but the town stifles her, and she wants to rant, but the only set of ears who would listen to her have gone; her mother’s help, Constantine. Where has she gone? Well, that’s something her mother is too ashamed to confess.
These three voices leap between the chapters of the novel and guide you through the suppression faced. In a small town like Jackson no one’s safe from domestic violence, rejection, heartbreak, death, alcoholism, racism - but none of those construct the main concern for the town, oh no, the only main concern is the diseases black people can give white people, and the solution: separate toilets.
This was an unbelievably moving novel. It was funny, heartbreaking and rather scary at times. I haven’t seen the film but some of the incidents within here are so graphic I highly doubt they would have made the film, which is a shame, as they were what built the novel’s character.
The most powerful emotion I felt in this novel was pride of the movements: I wish so much I had been born as part of the generation which helped push the fight for equality, because my admiration for all those who did shoots through the roof every time I think about what they went through and how much they accomplished.
The severity of racism wasn’t as extreme as I was expecting, which actually worked in the novel’s favour of not being a dark read, thus rendering it, in my opinion, more powerful and effectively moving.
I adored the narration, and even more so by the fact it wasn’t dominated by the main white character but dominated by the help. That’s what I wanted to see. When I saw adverts for the film I obviously see Emma Stone taking centre stage as the body behind a movement, and I was praying the novel wouldn’t concentrate on her but on those being oppressed - and honestly, it didn’t disappoint.
It far exceeded my expectations. I cried several times and the ending was brilliantly realistic and powerfully unsettling that, despite it seeming almost borderline inconclusive, it completed the journey poetically with a really strong sense for the need of continuation of the baby steps which are required to break down what appears to be unbreakable barriers, and the need to highlight that nothing can wholly be accomplished in one movement: it requires more voices and more eyes. ★★★★

1 comment:

  1. Hey! I'm a fairly new follower and I'd just like to say that I really love your reviews.

    I've read The Help and I agree with what you've said. It's such a beautiful book... I also cried several times when reading it.