The Good People

The Good PeopleThe Good People by Hannah Kent
Published by Pan Macmillan on September 27th 2016
Pages: 384
ISBN: 1743534906
Buy on Amazon
four-stars

The Good People is about when good people go off the rails due to grief, lore, superstition, and desperation! It’s nineteen century Ireland and times are tough. People still believe in fairies and believe they can curse people or steal people away.

Nora’s husband Martin has died suddenly leaving her to care for their deceased daughter’s child (Michael) on her own. The child is not a healthy one. He once walked and talked like any healthy toddler then one day her son-in-law showed up at Martin and Nora’s home. He informed them that their daughter was dead and that her once healthy child can no longer speak or walk. Nora and Martin have kept the child hidden worried about what their friends and neighbors will think. Nora hires a young woman named Mary to work for her. Mary’s main job is taking care of Michael and the home. Mary is initially horrified at Michael’s condition but begins to feel sympathy for him. Initially she believes him to be a changeling but as the book progresses has her doubts.

Fear, rumors and gossip are common in this community. The women talk at the watering hole and believe that something is very wrong with Michael. He is not like other children. He is hidden away and their imaginations get the better of them coming up with idea as to why Nora keeps him hidden. Illness and death is common and they are looking for something or someone to blame. Michael is suspected to be a changeling – a child of “The Good People” left behind when they took the human child, Michael. Believing that her grandson is a changeling, Nora turns to Nance, known for her unusual healing powers. She is feared and revered. She has ways of healing the villagers when traditional medicine does not work. Nora asks for Nance to help her get her real grandson back.

Most of the villagers do not see the harm in having Nance around, but the new priest wants her gone. Other villages begin to turn against her while some still come visit her in secret. Nance mainly uses herbs to heal people and relies on the “gifts of thanks” from villagers when she is about to provide them with “the cure.” Upon inspecting Michael, Nance states her belief that Michael is a changeling and offers her cure. Nance, Mary and Nora attempt to rid Nora of the changeling while bringing Michael back from “The Good People”.

This book is based on the real life case in nineteenth century Ireland where a woman was acquitted of a crime. Her defense was that she was trying to banish a fairy. Once again, Kent has taken a real life event and dazzled readers with it. I loved Kent’s book “Burial Rites”. I could not read it fast enough to see what would happen next. The Good People was not as fast a read for me but it grabbed me and did not let go. It is a story about loss, about wanting to believe something so badly that you can’t see the truth, about not knowing what the truth is, about shame, about superstition, about love, about ignorance, about fear and about desperation.

Kent gives us a glimpse into the lives of three women living in nineteenth century Ireland. Women who live in poor close knit communities where you know everyone and everyone knows your business. Communities where one’s fear makes the decisions for that person. Where reason and common sense something have to take a back seat to ignorance and superstition. A time where people do not have the luxury of modern times to go to a library or on the internet to find answers to their questions. They looked to nature, folklore and superstition to explain changes in human behavior, health or appearance.

I found that I both liked and felt empathy for all of the characters are varying parts of the book. They were put in situations that no one could explain to them – why did a seemingly healthy man die suddenly? Why did a seemingly healthy baby become so gravely disabled? Nature and fairies were answers they turned to most. The people are living in a harsh environment. The cows are not producing as much milk, crops are not surviving, the people are improvised. They need something to blame. Could Michael be the reason? Is he a changeling?

This is a bleak book. Kent is brilliant in creating atmosphere in this book. I could almost feel the chill in the air, see the mist rising from the ground, feel the fog, smell the grass. The landscape is also a character in this book. Life here is extreme. What occurs when three women take extreme measures to save a young boy?

Beautifully written and haunting a times. This tragic tale is beautifully told and lingered with me after I finished reading it. This is a book I sat and ponder after I finished reading. How does one make sense out of something she does not understand? What power does superstition play in our lives today? Thought provoking and masterfully told, The Good People does not disappoint.

I received a copy of this book from Little, Brown and Company and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

four-stars

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *