This book came highly recommended by a friend, and I soon saw why. Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s, it spans a year in the life of a typical southern community, complete with cotton plantations, women’s league meetings and coloured maids. In many ways, it’s as though the setting of Gone with the Wind had been frozen in time, and only updated slightly for electronic technology. The biggest difference though, is that this book is written not from the point of view of the beautiful Southern women (the Scarletts) but from the point of view of the eponymous Help (the Mammys).
The novel is written in the voice of three main characters – Skeeter (Eugenia) Phelan, a young Southern woman who discovers her civil activism completely by chance, and decides to write a book about the lives of the domestic help in her seggregated community; Aibileen, middle aged and maternal, who has lost her own son to an industrial accident, but spends her days bringing up white children; and Minny, Aibileen’s younger, feistier friend, known for her sharp tongue and quick wit.Stockett is skillful at shifting tone and voice with each switch of narrator, and the reader quickly gets used to the more colloquial language of Aibileen and Minny. In fact, their wry commentary and descriptions provide much of the humour in this book.The atrocities are not new, especially to students of history, but the impact is much greater because they occurred in the 1960s, the era of The Beatles and hippies and Camelot. I found the book all the more fascinating because even today, much of middle class India has domestic help, and it makes you consider how we treat them. How many of us have different plates/ glasses for our domestic help?
Set at that perfect pivot of civil rights and feminism, it gives a great snapshot of life in a time not so long ago and a place not so far away. The finale is both uplifting, poignant and a little convenient, but on the whole this book is a great read. The review on the cover calls it “unputdownable”, which is not an actual word, if you ask me, but I agree with the sentiment – I wanted to know what happened to each of the characters next!
Maya always has three books going at the same time - a different book for every mood. She loves exploring new authors, but every now and then she sinks back into the comfort of old favourites like murder mysteries and Regency romances. A corporate butterfly, Maya lives and works in Bangalore, India.
Latest posts by Maya Chandrasekaran (see all)
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