I’d read loads about The Help ever since it became a huge bestseller. Especially this article raised my curiosity about it. The author’s persistence and devotion to the book and her craft really inspired me.
About a week back I trudged into the library, weary of finding a good book to read because the best ones are usually out. But lo and behold! The Help was just sitting right in front waiting for me to pick it up! The ignorance of the other members helped me snatch it instantly and check it out. For the next four days I read the book in every free moment. The only snag – it was a paperback book printed in font smaller than an ant’s footprints.
I loved the book and can totally get why it has become such a big seller. The seemingly ordinary story is narrated in three viewpoints, Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter. All of them narrate their stories in first person present-tense.
In the year 1960, Aibileen and Minny are two black maids working in white households to earn their living. Aibileen works for Miss Leefolt and raises her two-year-old daughter Mae Mobley, while Miss Leefolt does little to look after her child.
I like how the dialogue of the black maids have been written out, with ‘a’ instead of ‘of’. Their narratives are full of sentences like ‘ taking care a white babies’ and ‘I seen plenty a womens’ etc. Their particular brand of colloquialism peppers the entire narrative, including phrases like ‘I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime’ ‘taking care of your own chilluns’.
The story starts when Miss Leefolt commissions the installation of a new bathroom in the garage for the maid, so that friends who drop in at her home are not compelled to use the guest bathroom which is used by the maid.
Minny is a fiery maid, with an acidic mouth who utters the first words that spring to her lips. Among all the maids featured, Aibileen is the quiet sensible one.
Into the maids’ life comes Miss Skeeter, a young white woman determined to write a book from the maids’ point of view and impress a publisher. By mere virtue of persistence, she contacts and gets in touch with a publisher who likes the idea.
But getting the maids to open up about their lives to a white woman is easier said than done. The whole enterprise is fraught with risk, but they plough on resolutely.
Characters on the periphery do suffer losses but one expected more harm to befall the principal characters. She is no JK Rowling, and only the most minor of characters suffer. Minny devises a clever plan to protect the maids who share their stories with Miss Skeeter, but that would be a spoiler so I won’t reveal it here.
The end, though not unexpected, left me a little teary-eyed. But don’t mind me, because I cry easily!
Get your hands on the book and read it. I wholly recommend it. Here’s the NYT review.