The Good People by Hannah Kent

When I started my book blog in 2013 one of the most talked about books of that year were Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites which I of course immediately added to my to-read pile. Everyone was reading it and reviewing it, so of course you want to read it too. However, despite me having the book I still haven’t read it. What I do know is that Burial Rites has been very well received, winning numerous awards, so perhaps it’s a good thing I haven’t read it and don’t have a high expectation for The Good People.

The story plays off in rural Ireland in the 1825 and centers heavily on the folklore and superstition that existed during that time.  Nóra Leahy’s household is hit by tragedy.  Her husband passed away unexpectedly and shortly after the death of her only daughter, Johanna. Nóra and Martin were left to care for their 4 year old crippled grandson and now with Martin’s death, Nóra is left alone having to care for the boy who can’t walk or talk.  As Martin is a fairly healthy man this stirs some suspicion around the circumstances of his death.

Knowing that people will come to her home to pay their respects for Martin, Nóra sends her grandson to stay with her neighbour and friend Peg O’Shea. She does not want anyone to see the child, because she knows in the back of her mind questions will be asked. What she doesn’t know is that his absence creates more suspicion than what was initially there, as they know she has a grandson that she cares for, yet no one has ever laid eyes on him.

They wonder what is wrong with him and when things start going wrong in the valley, everyone starts to suspect that he is a changeling and most probably the cause of Martin’s death.  Although disheartening, she has Peg that supports her and sees her struggle and advise that she gets help. She takes the advice and hires a young girl to care for her grandson, Micheál.

Mary, the caretaker and maid hears the gossip at the well where she goes to collect water and informs Nóra of the talk, but Nóra has had her own suspicion about the child all along. It’s not her grandson she says. Yes, she calls him IT. Frustrated with him and desperate to have her real grandson back, Nóra seeks the help of local doctress, Nance Roche. The woman who cures illnesses and casts away evil with her herbs and rituals. The people in the valley are divided when it comes to opinion on Nance’s practices. Some truly believe she has the gift and get her “knowledge” from Them (the fairies) and some absolutely despise her.

Nonetheless, out of desperation Nóra truly trusts and believes that Nance can help her get the real Micheál back. While there are some resistance from Mary, she eventually becomes complicit in Nance’s rituals. After the herbs and rituals they tried initially didn’t work, they have two more options: 1) Try a ritual that might or might not work or, 2) Threaten the fairy with fire. They performed the ritual and the child dies. The priest gets involved and informs the authorities about the death and there follows a court trial.

The writing style is lyrical and the story is an enchanting tale of love, desperation and superstition. In both the descriptions of the setting and the people, the atmosphere the author creates is palpable. It’s a story that’s predominantly focused on the female characters in the novel and their struggle and their unwavering belief in the superstitions and rituals that existed then. It took me some time to get into the novel, but as soon as I hit the 100 page mark, I couldn’t put it down. I’ve never been particularly interested in folklore, but I tend to gravitate towards stories that are eerie and otherworldly. The Good People is the latter. I am also embarrassed to admit that there was a part of me that really wanted to believe Nance would be able to banish the fairy! (Ridiculous, right?)

In conclusion, if you’re looking to get immersed into a story filled with 19th century Irish folklore, The Good People will not disappoint.

Images my own

Disclaimer: I received this book from Panmacmillan SA, for review consideration

  • I loved Burial Rites so had high hopes for this one. My sense from your review is that it’s good, but not great? I like the sound of the female perspective (so completely sick of men thanks to politics here) so think I’ll give it a shot. Having tempered expectations is probably a good thing. Thanks!

    • It was good. I’d definitely recommend it, I gave it 4 stars 🙂

      It made me want to read Burial Rites, for sure!
      I understand why you’re feeling this way. I don’t even live in your country, but I’m so sick of the situation. Whenever I go on twitter, it’s all I see. Think it’s time to mute the word ‘Trump’?

  • I’ve been waiting for this book to come out like forever xD I read Burial Rites a few years ago and absolutely loved it so I reckon I may have high hopes in store for this book. Looking forward to reading it at some point 🙂

    • Is it not out in Canada yet? Well I hope you enjoy it once you get your copy. I will eventually read Burial Rites.

  • Lisa Sheppard

    Sounds like one I would really get caught up in.

  • Isi

    Oh, I also want to read this one!
    I see you haven’t reviewed it as the “perfect” novel, but it looks appealing.
    I also liked Burial Rites, but it won’t be one of my favourite books.

    • It was good, Isi. I’m not sure I’ve actually found the perfect novel yet (or wait… ;))
      I haven’t read Burial Rites, but from what I can see by others’ comments, I need to rectify that. Thanks for leaving a comment!