The Good People by Hannah Kent
Pan Macmillan, September 2016
A few weeks ago I walked past a bookstore. I had no intention of going in and being tempted by the innumerable books on my wish list when I already have a huge TBR pile at home. In the shop window was a large display of The Good People by Hannah Kent. I paused, walked inside, picked up a copy and walked straight to the counter. The bookstore assistant said to me “it’s really good… just as good as her first.”
I’m glad I ignored my bank account and was lured in by the pretty marketing display, because I must have been living under a rock when Kent’s new novel was announced. I loved Burial Rites so much that I went on a historical noir bender, getting my hands on any similar novels I could find. I admit, I was a little wary that The Good People may not live up to its predecessor’s success, but I was slowly but surely drawn into Kent’s world. Set in Ireland in 1825 and introducing three women’s point of views; newly widowed Nora Leahy, the superstitious healer Nance Roche and young Mary who moves in with Nora to care for her grandson Micheal.
The story starts with the death of Nora’s husband. It sets the melancholic mood for the story which sat heavily on this reader but the undercurrent of suspense and intrigue pulled me in and had a great hold on me until the very end.
The three women become to believe that four-year old, orphaned, Micheal who has a severe developmental delay has been ‘taken’ by the faeries. They proceed to take actions to banish the faery in him and bring back the true son of Nora’s deceased daughter.
This story was very confronting for me. As a mother, I felt sick in the stomach as I read the steps the women took to expel the faery and how in Nora’s eyes, the boy who she came to know as ‘it’, was no longer her kin. As a psychologist, I was so fascinated by the superstitions, the blurred reality of the characters’ experience and of course the declining mental state of Nora. The beliefs of the people in this era was compelling and a stark contrast to how the women’s psyche would be interpreted in these days. They would be considered completely delusional in this day and age (though I’m aware that the belief in faery is still apparent in modern-day Ireland), and yet I was so immersed in Kent’s world-building that my own logic and reason was severely challenged.
The Good People is not a light-hearted read. Its content weighed heavily on me, even at the end when I closed the book, I carried the emotional impact for many more days. Would I recommend it? Most definitely! Just be prepared to feel many negative emotions and probably have a cry (I did!).
If you liked the historical, eerie, fantastical elements of The Good People, then I’d also recommend Cecilia Ekback’s In the Month of the Midnight Sun.