The second, highly anticipated novel by Hannah Kent was recently released and I immediately went out and sourced a copy (not difficult with Adelaide being her home town). I wanted to finish it before attending a stop on her book tour to hear her speak so found myself some time to sit down and get into this book. The Good People is set in Ireland in the 1820’s and centres around three women in a small community. Nora Leahy, a woman widowed at the beginning of the novel, who is also struggling to look after her crippled grandson after the death of her daughter. Mary Clifford, a fourteen year old servant girl who has been hired to help look after Micheal, the impaired grandson. Lastly Nance Roach, the local wise woman who has the knowledge of healing afflictions using herbs and of the good people, the fairies. Nance is sought out by Nora in her desperation to return her grandson to her, for Micheal wasn’t always a cripple and the people of the valley start to believe something more sinister is going on.
This book was another piece of exemplary work by Kent and dare I say I slightly favoured The Good People. Kent has a talent for taking the reader and absolutely immersing them into another world, in another time. Her research method is thorough and it is clear she has an absolute understanding of the climate, the beliefs and the everyday life of the time she is writing about. Her small references to items of clothing, details in the scenery all make you feel as if you are there. Much the same as she wrote about Iceland, it instills a longing in you to see this scenery for yourself, to recreate some of that feeling of magic that you picked up from the story. In fact I’m already looking forward to seeing where she will take us next.
Kent’s stories are very character and detail driven, rather than plot-centric. The characters she creates in this novel are memorable, complex and so intriguing. Nora, Nance and Mary are each very different characters. Characters with unique background, completely different lots in life and react in different ways to the situation they find themselves in. I found each of them quite intriguing and relatable. Mary, as the lost, younger servant girl doing the best she can in an unfamiliar environment. Trying to stand up for what she believes in but finding herself caught in the middle of a grave situation. Nora is clearly a woman consumed by grief. In a hard life where just surviving is a daily battle she also has to deal with the grief that is unexpectedly losing both her husband and her daughter in the same year. It is understandable to see how she finds herself lead down the path the novel takes. Nance was most fascinating for me. The wise woman with the knowledge. Fairies, superstitions and herblore are all interesting concepts that I loved exploring throughout the novel. Not to mention her self-belief and conviction in those beliefs were so interesting to experience.
I know I have been deliberately vague about the plot. There isn’t much to the story and don’t want to spoil it, instead go out and read this book. I would highly recommend giving it a read, particularly if you were a child who grew up loving fairy stories. Here we have a grown up, real-life story of fairies and the havoc they can wreak on lives. I found this novel engaging, easy to read and so fascinating and already look forward to Kent’s next novel. I give The Good People four fires to keep the mischievous fairies at bay.