by Jess Kidd
Canongate (UK), February 2018
After the death of his wife some decades ago, Cathal Flood, a “retired artist, mechanical engineer and dealer in curiosities” (as well as the hoarder of the book’s title), started collecting, and he never stopped. He has stopped cleaning, though, himself as well as his house. Flood’s home, a once grand Grade II-listed Victorian townhouse, is a filthy, chaotic mess of accumulated garbage, crawling with cats. “Eviscerated mattresses and abandoned car batteries” litter the garden and the inside is almost uninhabitable. Flood’s son Gabriel wants to force his father into an old-age home and Flood’s only chance to stay in Bridlemere is to get his house in order.
Enter Maud Drennan, a forty-something, no-nonsense Irish care-worker, who has been tasked to look after the “polluted old giant.” Armed with “a disposable apron, extra-safe rubber gloves and a facemask against the smell and the spores” she goes to work. The job is tough and despite her sunny disposition, Maud is wary of her new “client”, knowing that her predecessor ended up in the madhouse after Flood attacked him with a hockey stick.
And soon enough, Maud finds out that there is more to discover in the bedraggled mansion than “a dead mouse curled up in a tea cup” or a dismembered Barbie doll that looks like “part of some sort of art installation, like the abstract expressionist shit that splatters the wall and the mug tree lodged in the toilet bowl”. Bridlemere is a modern-day Manderley, with dark secrets hidden in the attic.
Spurred by Renata, her agoraphobic, yet glamorous landlady, Maud starts to investigate. Passing through a gap in “the Great Wall of National Geographics”, she sneaks upstairs. And once she finds the first clues, old newspaper-clippings and photographs, Maud is determined to uncover Bridlemere’s secrets. Was the death of Cathal’s wife Mary, who fell down the stairs and broke her neck, merely an accident or was she murdered? What happened to Marguerite, Flood’s long lost daughter whose face has been burnt out in the photograph? And how is this all connected with the mysterious disappearance of Maggie Dunne, a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, who went missing in 1985? While searching for the truth, Maud must also come to terms with an unsolved mystery of her own: the disappearance of her older sister Deirdre when Maud was seven years old.
Readers familiar with Kidd’s 2017-debut novel Himself will not be surprised that Maud is accompanied by an array of invisible saints in her quest. The first one, St. Dymphna, is introduced with lighthearted casualness when Maud is spooked by the “fuchsia pink lips” of the dismembered Barbie:
“I thank the saints in heaven I’ve made it out alive. I don’t thank St. Dymphna (family harmony, madness and runaways) specifically, although she is waiting outside of the gate for me, as she does most day, shimmering dimly. She is chewing the plaid that hangs inside her veil. She does this when she is bored; it gives her a ruminative look and leaves the ends of her invisible hair spikey. St. Dymphna catches sight of me, widens her eyes in mock surprise and blesses herself in an ironic kind of way.”
Kidd’s boundless, imaginative powers drive the plot forward in this amateur detective story with a gothic twist and her many humorous somersaults never fail to land on their feet. The quirky saints who render sarcastic (and not always helpful) advice, and the paranormal occurrences in the house – flying knives and talking dolls – only add to the eccentric flavor of the novel. Yes, this is a strange book. But in a good way.
Britta Böhler is a German-born author and former law professor. She has published literary fiction and a series of crime novels as well as various non fiction books about real life criminal cases. Her internationally acclaimed novel about Thomas Mann (English translation: The Decision) has been translated into eight languages. She lives in Amsterdam and Cologne and she writes in German, English and Dutch. For more information: www.brittaboehler.com