The eponymous anti-hero of Jess Kidd’s latest novel is an old, cantankerous man, living in a filthy, crowded house that was once a family home. The author told Seán Rocks that her intention when she created Cathal Flood was to start at the bottom:
“I kind of set out to write someone intensely unlikeable that we could kind of warm to.”
Cathal is the hoarder of the title and writing about his existence in his once-grand house wasn’t easy for Jess:
“I really hate clutter, so as I was writing it, I put a lot of my own fears into the environment.”
When carer Maude Drennan turns up at the old house, charged with putting the place in order, she brings her own baggage and her own issues, the most glaring of which is the cast of saints that speak to her on a regular basis. As the story develops, Cathal and Maud get to know each other and the result, despite the tale’s gothic surroundings, is often comic.
“I was dealing with some really serious themes of loss and grief and so forth, and so for me, having that comedy and the gothic element just felt right.”
Although he’s surrounded himself with everything that he can’t let go of, using his hoard as a kind of cocoon, Maud manages to struggle through the very real physical barrier to get to Cathal and then slowly begins to help him. But as well as the gothic element and the comedy, Jess has some serious points to make about the life of carers:
“I think you have to be led by your characters and your story and they take you in and absolutely it’s part of honouring their story. And if you dealing with some of these issues, it’s putting them across in the right way, perhaps using the comedy, but also making them feel real.”
The Hoarder by Jess Kidd is published by Canongate.
You can hear the full discussion with Jess, and listen back to the rest of Arena here:
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