Set in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962, The Help is a novel told from the perspective of three key characters — Skeeter, a twenty-something single woman still living with her parents but striving towards a career in publishing and Aibileen and Minny, two black maids who allow her into their world and share their stories with her, encouraging and facilitating others amongst their peers to do likewise.
Despite the fact that this is an easy read and a reasonably good yarn, I found it an uncomfortable novel and I am not sure whether that has to do with the telling or with the tale.
While much is made of the collecting and telling of the stories of ‘the help’, the actual stories seem secondary to other elements in the plot, perhaps I did not give it sufficient attention but I found it difficult to hear authentic stories emerge.
What does emerge is glimpses into the lives of Aibileen and of Minny and through them into the lives of the families that employ them. But, there are points in the book when you are left wondering why a character was introduced and not developed — Skeeter’s father being one example and the cool, clean hero, Stuart being another.
I know that my reaction is not typical and that the book is loved by many readers but to me it seemed to skim over the surface of things leaving the sense that there might be a much better novel lurking inside if only a little more time had gone into searching for it and editing to bring it out.
Perhaps because The Help was a book club choice and not a title that I would necessarily have selected for myself, I am not the best judge and jury but from quite early on in the book, I really wanted to reach the end and, at more than 400 pages, it took some time to get there.