I was scheduled to do a lovely, summer motorbike ride today but as the wind is trying to uproot giant trees across the road I wonder what it might do to my scooter. So now I am at loose ends. I actually found myself staring at the map on Book Depository of who bought what books around the world. Actually it was interesting. The Scandinavian countries were being sent novels and lovely stories, as it evidently is such a lovely place to live. South American buyers bought books on civil war. American readers were buying books to do with politics or mental health and Australia had one lonely colouring book which made me laugh. Are we so simple these days or what?
I needed to do my review on The Good People by Hannah Kent and today is as good of a day as any. (Spoiler free I might add)
The story opens with Nóra Leahy having suddenly lost her husband. The shock and wake seem to go on for days. She has now lost her daughter who left behind a little boy and her husband.
As we progress we learn that her grandson is quite disabled with what I would describe as very autistic symptoms. Of course there was no such term at this time in history which takes place in 1800’s Ireland.
Nóra hires a 14 year old girl, Mary, to help her with the child, housework and a bit of farm work. Nóra doesn’t cope with the young boy, Micheál at all. He screams most of the time, cannot speak, walk or control his bowels. Mary has great compassion for this young lad and develops the closest thing to a relationship with him that he’s had to date.
Enter Nance Roche, a superstitious old woman who lives in a cabin at the edge of the forest She prescribes cures through natural remedies guaranteed to work.
Does it fix Micheál. This is the basis of the story. She diagnoses him as a changeling. That means another worldly source has entered his body, probably the fairies and taken over his soul. The trick is to find the right combination of treatments to rid him of such and make him whole, as he supposedly was when his mother had him. Before she died she told her husband that the boy in front of her was no longer her son. She believed he had been switched. Once grandmother Nóra learns of this she remains more than convinced this has happened.
I can’t stay more than this as I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone. I really enjoyed this story. The book is full of superstitions as you might expect from 1800’s rural Ireland , about ten miles from Killarney. There are stories about Nora, the boy and almost everyone else’s life from the community women who meet at the well each morning for water. Mary is the most sensible one of the lot.
Having grown up in the 1950’s midwest of America I remember hearing my grandmother and mother to a certain degree remind me of various superstitions that were definitely “relevant” to our life. Most involved birds in the house or birds tapping at the window being the cause of death to someone close by. I have never been able to shake those memories and when a bird hit my window one day in 2004, killing itself and then learning the next day of my father’s death…well that didn’t really erase those memories. No, I don’t believe in superstitions but it does cross my mind once in awhile.
Hannah Kent is a young Australian author whose first book was published to critical acclaim, Burial Rites about the last woman in Iceland who was hanged. Friends have told me they enjoyed this book more than The Good People but I have not read it yet.
I think Ms. Kent is a very talented writer and I enjoyed this book immensely. I listened to it from Audible.com and it had a great narrator whose Irish accent really brought the story to life. I might also add as the story progresses the drama increases quite a bit.
If I had any criticism it would be I thought it was a bit too long. I would have shortened it a bit but I couldn’t have written something this in-depth so it is rather a moot point.
My book group will discuss this book at the end of the month and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them may not appreciate it as much as I did. But I am not sure. I will let you know.
I still think about these people. I wonder about their lives and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since I heard it. The sign of a good book? I think so, at least it was for me.
I’d love to know what others thought of it if it has been read.
This is my first book towards the Australian Women Writer’s group that I have just joined. They are having a focus this year on classic Australian Women writers so I need to download some older works but I think this was a great book to start with although it was more to do with Ireland than England. Happy Reading from the Penguin and I.