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