Sunday, February 11, 2018

Book Review: "Mr. Flood's Last Resort" by Jess Kidd

Some authors know just how to tell stories. Jess Kidd is one of those. Fresh on the heels of her magnificent, magical book Himself (see my original review), which made my list of the best books I read last year, she dazzles with her storytelling ability again in her new book, Mr. Flood's Last Resort.

Maud Drennan is a caregiver whose seemingly unflappable attitude hints at a world-weariness you wouldn't expect of someone her age. But Maud isn't sunny and naive—a childhood tragedy left her slightly traumatized, and it somehow left behind a crowd of saints who appear to Maud at random times each day, befitting of the situation she's in. These aren't always welcome saints, mind you, but they do provide a sort of companionship.

Maud has been assigned to the irascible Cathal Flood, a cantankerous old man who has taken pleasure in running off his previous caregivers any way he can—through fear, intimidation, even threats of physical violence. Mr. Flood lives in a dilapidated old mansion, filled to the brim with collector's items, decaying trash, and what seems like hundreds of cats who roam through the house. Maud is Mr. Flood's last resort, because if he doesn't let her get the house in order, his son has threatened to put him in an old-age home, something the old man will never let happen.

At first, Mr. Flood torments Maud, changing moods so quickly her head spins, and trying the tricks that scared his previous caregivers away. But Maud doesn't scare too easily, and after a while, he realizes she has respect for some of the items he's been keeping all these years, and the two form a tentative bond. (It doesn't hurt that neither trusts his son.)

But strange things do happen in the house. Maud hears noises when there's no one around, and even the cats react to invisible stimuli which startle and upset them. And how can she explain the photos which keep appearing mysteriously, photos which hint at secrets held deep within the house? Do these photos point to long-forgotten crimes, crimes which only she can help solve?

Do people of a certain age have the right to live their last years however they want, or must they adhere to others' wishes? If you sense a mystery, is it your responsibility to try and solve it, even if it means betraying the trust of someone you've started to care for? Can you help someone pull their life together if you don't have yours fully together?

Along with a cast of remarkable characters, Kidd addresses these questions in Mr. Flood's Last Resort, and shows that the special environments she created in her first book weren't a fluke. This is a story about how important it is to come to terms with what happens in our lives, and that sometimes we must forgive ourselves as well as forgive others. It also is a story which demonstrates that our eccentricities don't make us less of a person, or less worthy of happiness.

Although I felt the book moved a little slowly at the start, and lost steam a time or two, this was such an enjoyable read. Kidd drew me in to this world she created, and it felt so true—when Maud was combing through the piles and piles of junk, trash, oddities, and neglected collectibles, I felt as if I were in the mansion with her, smelling the dust and decay. There's certainly some predictability to this book, but that didn't detract from its immense charm.

This type of book won't be for everyone. Those who like more realistic fiction and can't let themselves loosen the bounds of belief may find this odd or bizarre. But Kidd is such a marvelous storyteller, you should let yourself experience her books—if not this one, definitely Himself.

NetGalley and Atria Books provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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