Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Things in Jars

Title:  Things in Jars
Author:  Jess Kidd
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2020. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1982121289 / 978-1982121280

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "As pale as a grave grub she's an eyeful"

Favorite Quote:  "Stories, particularly the bad ones, are told in their own time." 

1863 in London is a time both of wealth and poverty. Birdie is an unusual woman for the times. She calls herself a widow. She lives independently with her seven foot tall, rescued housekeeper. She is a private investigator with many stories in her past, stories she does not want shared with the world.

The plot of the book is a missing child, a parent who would rather not involve the police, and a private investigator hired to find the child. Added to that is the back story of the private investigator, people from her childhood who are now part of this missing persons case, and a literal ghost from her past.

This book took me two weeks to read, which is long time. I kept picking it up and putting it down. I read other things in between. I wanted to know how this story ends. I wanted to know what happens to Christabel, Birdie, Ruby, and even Rose. I wanted to know who and what Christabel was. By the end, I liked Birdie's story and the way the plot of this book ties to her history. However, I found myself not wanting to read the book to get to the end of the story. I finished by one day deciding I was going to read to the end.

One issue is that initially the focus of the story is a missing child. This is no ordinary child. The initial descriptions are of a cage, snails, and heads bitten off of snails. At the same time, the descriptions are of a child calmed by stories - dark, disturbing stories but stories nevertheless.

The description of a "merrow" eventually comes up. As with the background of Himself by Jess Kidd, the idea of the merrow is found in Irish folklore. However, this book does not really go into that history and background. It is the setting for the book but not the story.

I want to know more, but more never really comes. Although the book starts with the missing child, this is ultimately Birdie's story. The child, her oddity, and her ultimate fate become secondary to Birdie's story. The "things in jars" are the background to Birdie's story not the story itself. That leaves me wondering why that background? It also leaves me wondering if that background, why is not developed more?

I also think the writing style got in the way of the story. Here are one description... "The red hair that peeps out from under her widow's cap is rich in the firelight, is likely abundant. When she raises her dirty-green eyes to him his mind conjures images of fickle wood nymphs in dappled glades." This description is of the main character, Birdie. Birdie is an independent, pipe smoking, private detective. The words of the description do not match the personality. It does not fit the character or the story.

Ultimately, this story set in folklore, darkness, oddities, and disturbing images turns into a much more prosaic one of the scars of childhood. I wish it had been more.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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