21 September 2017

Review: THE GOOD PEOPLE, Hannah Kent

Synopsis (publisher)

The fires on the hills smouldered orange as the women left, pockets charged with ashes to guard them from the night. Watching them fade into the grey fall of snow, Nance thought she could hear Maggie's voice. A whisper in the dark.

"Some folk are born different, Nance. They are born on the outside of things, with a skin a little thinner, eyes a little keener to what goes unnoticed by most. Their hearts swallow more blood than ordinary hearts; the river runs differently for them."

Nóra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál. The boy cannot walk, or speak, and Nora, mistrustful of the tongues of gossips, has kept the child hidden from those who might see in his deformity evidence of otherworldly interference.

Unable to care for the child alone, Nóra hires a fourteen-year-old servant girl, Mary, who soon hears the whispers in the valley about the blasted creature causing grief to fall upon the widow's house.

Alone, hedged in by rumour, Mary and her mistress seek out the only person in the valley who might be able to help Micheál. For although her neighbours are wary of her, it is said that old Nance Roche has the knowledge. That she consorts with Them, the Good People. And that only she can return those whom they have taken ...

My Take

I guess you could argue that this isn't really crime fiction, but in the end a crime is committed, even if only through ignorance.

The setting is Killarney 1825. Nora Leahy is brought to the edge of her tether when her husband Martin dies suddenly out in the fields. As the villagers gather together in Nora's hut for the wake, they talk about the signs observed at the time Martin died: four magpies sitting together in a field; the fact that he died at the crossroads where they bury suicides; that as he fell the hammer at the blacksmith's could be heard; and as the men carried his body home lights could be seen towards the woods. These are taken as signs that the fairies, The Good People, had a hand in his passing.

After the priest has left, Nance Roche, regarded by some as a witch, arrives to keen over Martin's body and Nora invites her into the hut. Nora has already delivered her four year grandson, who is disabled, to a neighbour so that those coming to her hut do not see him.

The novel tells the story of how Nora and Nance attempt to cure the boy, of how they become convinced that he is a changeling, left by The Good People, in the place of her actual grandson.

The author tells readers that this work of fiction is based on a real event that occurred in the summer of 1825 in County Kerry. The novel explores what might have been behind the case and it makes fascinating reading.  The time frame is pre-potato famine, and already crops are failing and people are barely subsisting. They tend to blame events on external forces and rely on people such as Nance Roche for herbal cures, poultices, and superstitious beliefs to support them when they are ill or injured.

My Rating: 4.7

I've also read 4.5, BURIAL RITES


Peggy Ann said...

Can't wait to read this! I loved Burial Rites.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I, too, loved BURIAL RITES.


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