Entering the Overflowing Mansion with Jess Kidd
The condition of human existence is a topic I believe everyone thinks about at one point or another, and when it comes to the meaning and purpose of our lives, I believe the vast majority of us reach a similar conclusion: we simply have no idea. Desperately, we grasp for meaning wherever we can find it and rush to give ourselves ambitions and aspirations so we might have vague way-points to follow in the vast, nebulous sea of potential destinies. We spend our lives carefully building up our identities, but all too often it only takes one event to put it all into question, which is precisely what our protagonists experience in Mr. Flood’s Last Resort by Jess Kidd.
The plot opens by presenting us with Maud Drennan, a motivated and happy caretaker bearing a secret tragedy from her childhood, one which left her haunted for the rest of her life. Somehow though, she manages to find peace and stability in her work and regular visits to her agoraphobic neighbour… however, it’s all about to change one day as she makes the acquaintance of the titular Mr. Flood, about to turn her life upside down.
On his end, Cathal Flood is almost a menace to society, chasing away caretakers one after the other and practically ready to go to war against his son’s wishes of putting him in a retirement home. Flood feels himself losing control of the situation, until he gets one last chance. With Maud as his caretaker, if he can restore a sense of order to his mansion overflowing with memorabilia and stray cats, he might just avoid having to retire from the world surrounded by his elderly peers.
Worlds Within a World
While I don’t think it was meant by the author when she was writing the book, to me there were two very clear and distinct aspects to the narrative, even if they aren’t overtly segregated by chapters or literary techniques: the countless stories hidden in the mansion and shared between Maud and Cathal, as well as the inner search for self both of them are conducting. As such, I would like to start things off by discussing the first element, the hook which appears closer to the surface, so-to-speak.
As you might imagine, Cathal’s mansion is on the bigger side of things, and with the original title of the book in the U.K. being The Hoarder, I’m certain you can form a good idea of the sort of lair you’ll be entering here. Rooms upon rooms housing mountains of stuff from useless pieces of junk with no history to nearly-priceless relics with more stories to them than entire books.
I personally greatly enjoyed observing how Maud and Cathal trudge through every corner of what the mansion has to offer, to the point where I developed a sort of anxious anticipation for what might be hiding around the next corner. Bear in mind, this is far from being a thriller or anything of the sort, which is why I find it doubly commendable the author was able to bring out this sort of reaction from me. The mansion has many tales to tell, and many worlds within it just waiting to be explored and beckoning for lovers of puzzle and mystery to piece them together. I would essentially equate this with an archaeological dig somehow filled with a massive assortment of items from different times and places.
The Laughs and Cries of Existence in Mr. Flood’s Last Resort
As was mentioned above, in my mind there are two very clear plotlines happening in the book, and second one revolves around Maud and Cathal’s search for themselves. They both fall into the category of people who are convinced they know themselves and don’t really need anything other than what they’ve had for as long as they can remember. Needless to say, both of them see their concepts challenged and pretty much broken early on, coming to the realization there might actually be more to life than they first realized.
The stories and thoughts they share with each other are constantly flowing from tragedy to comedy, without ever pulling too much in either direction. It’s interesting to witness how their dynamics are evolving over the course of the story, how the tales they share with each other take on increasingly personal characteristics, exposing their inner worlds to us bit by bit as they slowly learn to let go of the pains from their pasts. If I didn’t know any better, I might have assumed this was the novelized biography of real people who actually existed.
Personally, I find Jess Kidd has a remarkable talent for creating and developing unique characters; I easily gained a strong sympathy for both characters and a true appreciation for the complexity with which their thoughts and emotions are layered. They never feel static in any sense of the word, always shifting and being moulded by their experiences. Even Cathal’s dead wife Mary manages to become a character with the many mysteries she left behind, as do the ghostly saints haunting Mary since her childhood.
The Final Verdict
Mr. Flood’s Last Resort by Jess Kidd is one of the best character-driven mixtures of tragedy and comedy I have had the pleasure of reading in a while. Full of laughs, cries, mystery, discovery, life philosophy and the unexpected, the story of Maud and Cathal is a treasure in itself waiting to be found. If you enjoy slower stories which revolve around character dynamics and development, then I highly recommend you give this book the chance it deserves.
Jess Kidd is a British writer hailing from Richmond in the United Kingdom with a degree in Literature at The Open University and a PhD in Creative Writing Studies. Her debut novel, Himself, was published in 2016, and her second novel followed shortly after titled The Hoarder in the U.K. or Mr. Flood’s Last Resort in the United States. She is also currently developing some original TV projects with various U.K. Producers.