Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Good People by Hannah Kent

review by Maryom

When first her daughter, then her husband, die within months of each other, Nora is left struggling to cope - she not only has to keep their fields worked and rent paid but also to care for her ill four year old grandson Micheal alone. Once he was a happy healthy little boy but since his mother died a few months ago he's thin and wasted, and has lost the ability to walk and talk. Nora hopes it's merely an illness that will pass with good food and care, but when she employs a maid Mary to help care for him, she immediately thinks the boy is possessed by a fairy spirit. Neither doctor nor priest can offer help, so in desperation Nora turns to the local healer Nance, an elderly woman knowledgeable in the use of herbs and the ways of the fairies, the "Good People", but just how far will the three women go in trying for a cure ...


The Good People is a story of belief, superstition and desperation set in a remote Irish village in the early 19th century, where people still totally accept that a curse has power, that people are stolen away by fairies, and a disabled child is actually a fairy changeling capable of casting the evil eye on a village, spoiling crops, making cattle run dry, hens stop laying. In this world a healer such as Nance has a place, treating ailments with the 'medicines' she has to hand - but the new village priest is forward looking and dismisses such beliefs as superstition, and, after a series of misfortunes striking those who've asked for her help, even the villagers are beginning to question her abilities.
It would be too easy to be smug and sophisticated, to laugh at the villagers' ignorance, but Kent avoids that. Instead she build a sympathetic, understanding picture of this community, entering fully into their mindset to which the meddling of the fairies is as obvious a fact as the sun rising each morning, while at the same time balancing the interpretation of Nora and Nance's actions - do they firmly believe they are doing their best for the boy, or are they deliberately, maliciously, harming him? I think that's one for the reader to decide.

The description of countryside is lyrical and atmospheric, the bend of the grass, the flow of the river making a beautiful setting for potentially dark deeds occurring in the half-light of dawn and dusk. The story itself moves inexorably towards its climax as this compelling psychological dram plays itself out, and Nance tries ever more extreme treatments to help the child.
And, in case you think it's all too far fetched, it is based on actual events...

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Picador
Genre - adult, 

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