Books & Reviews

‘The Good People,’ by Hannah Kent: Book Review

Star Rating: ★★★✰✰

hannah-kent-the-good-peopleAfter the deaths of her daughter and husband, Nora Leahy is left alone to care for her grandson, Micheál. But Micheál isn’t the lively boy that she met when she visited her daughter a few years before. He doesn’t speak and can’t walk, and she has to hide him from the neighbours and their gossip.

They believe him to be a changeling, left by the faeries in exchange for the real boy, and blame him for the misfortune that has befallen the community.

When she realises she can’t take care of him on her own she hires Mary, a young girl looking to earn some money to help her family.

But the gossip soon becomes too much for them both, and Nora decides to seek the help of Nance Roche, a local healer who has knowledge of the faeries, or the Good People as she calls them.

Nora believes she has the ability to bring the child back and rid her of the burden of the changeling. But Mary isn’t sure Nance is doing more harm than good.

The Good People is centred around the superstitious folklore of Ireland in the 1800s. Belief in faeries and the power of plants and herbs was prevalent and it’s these pagan beliefs that propel the story.

Nance is a healer, using the power from herbs and plants to heal those who come to her with problems. She is dealing with the new priest who is trying to eradicate the old beliefs in favour of Catholicism.

While it’s not a very thrilling book I was always propelled to read on. Similar to The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, it was a curiosity at what was going to happen that made me read on. Logically I knew that faeries don’t exist and that Micheál couldn’t be a changeling. There was no way that Nance was going to be able to cure him.

But I was desperate to find out what was going to happen to him. How would she explain it away when she couldn’t cure him? Or would Kent surprise me and have it all be true after all?

I won’t say too much, but the conclusion doesn’t disappoint. It’s gripping, a little surprising, and very satisfying.

I rooted for Nance for the whole book, even if I didn’t believe in what she was doing. But that might be more because I have stronger feelings against the Catholic Church than I do against paganism and superstitions. I wanted her to show the smug priest where to go. But maybe that was just me.

In The Good People, Hannah Kent gives us a brilliant story of Irish history and folklore. If you like folk stories and superstitions then this is definitely the book for you.

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