‘Nora’s first thought when they first brought her the body was that it could not be her husbands.’
County Kerry, Ireland, 1825.
Nóra, bereft after the sudden death of her beloved husband, finds herself alone and caring for her young grandson Micheál. Micheál cannot speak and cannot walk and Nóra is desperate to know what is wrong with him. What happened to the healthy, happy grandson she met when her daughter was still alive?
Mary arrives in the valley to help Nóra just as the whispers are spreading: the stories of unexplained misfortunes, of illnesses, and the rumours that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley.
Nance’s knowledge keeps her apart. To the new priest, she is a threat, but to the valley people she is a wanderer, a healer. Nance knows how to use the plants and berries of the woodland; she understands the magic in the old ways. And she might be able to help Micheál.
As these three women are drawn together in the hope of restoring Micheál, their world of folklore and belief, of ritual and stories, tightens around them. It will lead them down a dangerous path, and force them to question everything they have ever known.
Based on true events and set in a lost world bound by its own laws, The Good People is Hannah Kent’s startling novel about absolute belief and devoted love. Terrifying, thrilling and moving in equal measure, this long-awaited follow-up to Burial Rites shows an author at the height of her powers.
What I thought:
This is a difficult book to talk about because it is so different from what I would normally read. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. It was just different and set in a time and place that I don’t really know much about but has always interested me. Irish folk tales and the fae are part of fantasy so I know bits about them, but this part of history? Nope I know nothing. Which is sad, this part of history in England I studied endlessly in school but nothing about the land on the other side of the Irish Sea. What I do know is at this point they were in a weird half place between science and the ‘Old Ways’ and beliefs of magic.
And it’s in that half place that this book is set. Micheál is a disabled child about 4 years old who lives with his grandmother and grandfather after the death of his mother. When Nóra’s husband dies she’s unable to cope by herself and brings in Mary as a second pair of hands to help look after the child. Except in her grief and due to the whispering of the village Nóra has come to the decision that Micheál cannot be her grandson, he must be a changeling. Because before her daughter’s death Micheál could walk and talk. Therefore she goes to Nancé, the village healer and expert in all things to do with the good people, to ask her to rid the fairy from the child and bring back the real Micheál.
There are hardly any male characters in this book, apart from Micheál, and yet it doesn’t feel like they are missing. Each woman feels very real and different and yet they perfectly fit in this world and time. Nancé has spent her whole life making cures and working as a ‘go-between’ for the good people. To begin with Nóra doesn’t question that Micheál is her grandson and she keeps him hidden from the village to stop the rumours but with the death of her husband and the weight of the responsibility falling entirely on her shoulders she stops referring to him as Micheál and slowly as ‘it’. She’s so desperate to grip onto the possibility of family that by the end of the book she is convinced that he is a changeling. Mary is the first one to use the term ‘changeling’ in direct reference to Micheál but as they go through more and more ‘cures’ or ‘fixes’ she changes her mind and starts to truly care for the little boy.
The fact that this is a book based on real events added something extra to it, we know that certain things happened and we know the prevailing thoughts of people at the time. But how or why things happened are unknown and will always be so and therefore this can’t help but lead into further conversations about the time and the people – in my opinion this would make it a good book club read.
My only real negative comment was at times it felt slow paced (but I am aware that the books I normally read are very fast paced) and it was a bit of a chore to start with. But once Nóra had made up her mind to send the changeling back it became difficult to put down.
Why I read this:
I adore Hannah Kent’s first book ‘Burial Rites’ which is another book based on real events in Iceland about the last woman to be given the death penalty. When I heard she had another book out it was instantly added to the TBR pile. Even if it took me a while to actually get my hands on it and read it.
This was an enjoyable but different read, a bit slow at times but an interesting look at a time period and the people in it that I know nothing about. Not sure I would read it again but I’ll definitely get any other book that Kent writes.
Would I recommend: Yes. Like I said I feel like this more than any other that I’ve read this year would be good for a book club. It’s not a genre book and it brings up loads of interesting questions about just how far the women go.
Popsugar: A book based on a real person; A book about death or grief (this is a bit of a fudge but I’ll fight you on it. Nóra clearly makes the decisions she does because of the lose of her husband); Meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get round to;
As always please leave a comment. I can see that people are at least looking at this and I would love to hear from you, especially if you’ve read the book or if my words have made you want to read it.
Ta Ta for now