Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Good People – Hannah Kent

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction
4*s

This is a book steeped in the folklore and superstition that I’m sure reigned worldwide at the beginning of the nineteenth century but possibly had its most ardent followers in the Irish countryside with its stories of fairies, changelings and many rituals to ward off evil.

Set in County Kerry in 1825 in a remote valley lying between the mountains of south-west Ireland,near the Flesk river we meet Nóra Lehay when she learns of the death of her husband Martin. Only earlier that year the pair had suffered the loss of their only daughter Johanna and as a result their four year-old grandson Micheál. Poor Micheál is unable to walk and Nora has kept him hidden from her neighbours but now with the house about to fill up with mourners, she decides to give him to her neighbour, Peg O’Shea to mind.

The women gather at the well and swap gossip and Nóra’s bad luck is part of the daily currency. Peg is more understanding, with Nóra struggling to cope as she refuses to take Micheál out of their home, she suggests she goes to the hiring fair to get herself a young girl to lend a pair of hands.

This book is beautifully written and I became immersed in the small house, the winter pressing down on an already bleak home. The simple lifestyle with the local handy woman dispensing herbs and cures for all manner of ills was easy to imagine with the lyrical writing and the occasional Gallic phrase served to add a layer of authenticity to what felt like a meticulously researched book. The superstitions that seemed so quaint at the opening of the book soon take a darker turn with many of the villagers reporting bad luck in the form of the drying up of milk from the cows and the lack of eggs from the hens. These basic needs are so important when the inhabitants are living from hand to mouth, and soon the murmurs of something causing the bad luck begin to turn into positive finger-pointing and some of those fingers point at Micheál.

There is no doubt at all that Hannah Kent knows how to tell a story, she is a master of the show and not tell with the various superstitions on which the villagers rely on are seamlessly interspersed throughout the tale. The atmosphere she creates as the backdrop oppressive with little relief and I felt that I was immersed in a world far away from my home comforts. The characters were well-drawn and although I wouldn’t have wanted to share the bleak winter with some of them, had enough of a back-story for me to understand them. This wasn’t after all a world where a battered wife could up sticks and leave. There is one woman, the handy woman, Nance Roche, who lives close to the part of the forest where the fairies are thought to dwell, whose life seemed to be a litany of hardship, and was one of many who illustrated quite how strong the survival instinct is. Her story combined with that of Mary the maid, just a young teen, confronted with caring for a young boy who couldn’t walk or talk and screamed through the night was almost too awful to imagine. The hardship was sadly all too easy to imagine.

The Good People is a heart-breaking novel which provoked a feeling similar to that I had when reading the author’s debut book Burial Rites, a feeling that the outcome was inevitable, yet I read it desperately hoping for something to happen that would change its course. The story is all the more devastating because like Burial Rites it is inspired by a real event.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of The Good People ahead of the publication of the hardback on 9 February 2017.

First Published UK:  9 February 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages:  400
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

34 thoughts on “The Good People – Hannah Kent

  1. A very reassuring review, Cleo. I’m always a little nervous about the second novel when an author’s debut is been as good as Burial Rites but it sounds as if Hannah Kent has pulled it off.

  2. Excellent review as ever, Cleo. And it sounds as though this book is very absorbing, just as Burial Rites is. And I think you’re right; stories like this are all the more affecting because they are based on real events. It makes you stop and think…

    1. Thank you Margot – there is an awful lot to admire in this one although I did prefer Burial Rites but I think that was because although historical, and set in another country, the emotions and beliefs of the protagonist were more easily understood. Horrific to think this was based on a real event….

  3. I don’t know if I told you before, but I love the books you choose to read, I always check them out on Goodreads 😀 When I finish my crime arcs, I’m going to read a lot of historical fiction!!!

  4. Great review! I’m about halfway through at the moment, and think I’m heading towards agreeing with your 4 star rating. The research is fab and it feels authentic, but somehow it seem grimmer than Burial Rites… or maybe less emotional or something. Can’t quite put my finger on it yet, but though I’m admiring it, it’s not blowing me away the way Burial Rites did…

  5. I have this waiting, so have not read your review, just skimmed to see you are recommending it – as is my usual wont I don’t read reviews of books I shall be reading shortly, but knowing you are thumbs upping it should help it get read sooner rather than later. I too adored Burial Rites – there is always a kind of anxiety with a second book, for a reader, when a first turned out to be exceptional

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