The God People by Hannah Kent
From the author of the highly acclaimed novel Burial Rites comes her second novel The Good People and the idea for this book came while writing Burial Rites and confirms that Hannah Kent is a master storyteller.
Set in 1820’s Ireland and has folklore at its heart, something that was prevalent in the 19th Century. The story is based in County Kerry in South West Ireland. Nóra Leahy’s husband Martin has just died in mysterious circumstances as he was not suffering an illness. He just died very suddenly. That same year they lost their daughter and as such they take in their four-year-old Grandson Micheál but he is disabled and cannot walk or speak and he has been kept hidden from public gaze, Nóra has hired Mary to care for Micheál but the whispers and gossip has already begun. Just what has caused young Micheál to go from being a happy and healthy young boy to one who is now disabled.
Coming into the story apart from Mary we have Nance Roche who is the local ‘healer’ but is seen otherwise by the village priest who is concerned about her actions and the affects it will have on the villagers. To the three women they now come to believe that Micheál is a ‘changeling’ he has been taken by the fairies. For Nóra going through a time of hardship and misfortune she cannot understand why life has turned against her home. Now Nance believes she can cure Micheál and bring him back from the fairies. This is a story that is steeped in Irish folklore and superstition. Hannah Kent’s meticulous research opens up a world from the past like looking through a window as it is so vivid and detailed. Each character has been brought to life that the reader becomes so deeply involved in the story that I found it was difficult to leave the story alone. This is not just a novel but is a history lesson as you learn of the hard life of the small communities, surviving on potatoes and Poitín and their local folklore all come to light in a deeply painful and heart-breaking novel.
As Nance goes about treating Micheál and the treatment using local remedies become more and more severe it becomes apparent to anyone reading that what is going on here is nothing short of madness. But remember this is the 19th Century and these small isolated communities are cut off from the rest of the world. Kent has brought to life a past long forgotten and how she has brought the past to life and the local language she brings to the reader is deep and rich.
The Good People is not a book to be taken lightly and it will shake your very emotions. This story is actually based a real event which makes reading it more personal. It has been a long time to wait for Kent’s second novel but the wait was worth the wait. It is beautifully written and if you have read Burial Rites you will know just how Kent paces her writing. This is no exception. A truly gifted writer.
Thank you to Kate Green for the advanced review copy.
The Good People by Hannah Kent is published by Picador and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.