The Good People: Book summary and reviews of The Good People by Hannah Kent

The Good People

by Hannah Kent

The Good People by Hannah Kent X
The Good People by Hannah Kent
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2017
    400 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

Based on true events in nineteenth century Ireland, Hannah Kent's startling new novel tells the story of three women, drawn together to rescue a child from a superstitious community.

Nóra, bereft after the death of her husband, finds herself alone and caring for her grandson Micheál, who can neither speak nor walk. A handmaid, Mary, arrives to help Nóra just as rumors begin to spread that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley. Determined to banish evil, Nóra and Mary enlist the help of Nance, an elderly wanderer who understands the magic of the old ways.

Set in a lost world bound by its own laws, The Good People is Hannah Kent's startling new novel about absolute belief and devoted love.

Terrifying, thrilling and moving in equal measure, this follow-up to Burial Rites shows an author at the height of her powers.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Short-listed for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

"Though rife with description, backstory, and a surfeit of gossip, the book's pervasive sense of foreboding and clear narrative arcs keep the tale immersive. Kent leads the reader on a rocky, disquieting journey to the misty crossroads of Irish folk beliefs past and future." - Publisher's Weekly

"Kent's immersive setting, benefiting from impressive historical research and the use of Gaelic vocabulary, features both a dramatically alive natural world and a believably fearsome supernatural one...this will please lovers of haunting literary fiction." - Booklist

"The lack of understanding of disability leads Micheál to be dehumanized, even by his own grandmother, and his treatment is painful to read. Nevertheless, this work is a worthy contribution to literary collections, particularly those at the intersection of feminism, religion, and folklore." - Library Journal

"Peppered with Gaelic words and phrases and frequent references to bygone beliefs and practices, this brutal telling of a brutal story invites discussion and revulsion. If Stevie Wonder is correct, when you believe in things you don't understand, then you suffer. Kent's novel validates his indictment of superstition." - Kirkus

"Kent has a terrific feel for the language of her setting.This is a serious and compelling novel about those in desperate circumstances cling to ritual as a bulwark against their own powerlessness." - The Guardian (UK)

"Taking its inspiration from newspaper reports of a real court case in County Kerry in 1826, Ther Good People is an even better novel than Burial Rites-a starkly realized tale of love, grief and misconceived beliefs." - The Sunday Times (UK)

"Kent has a wonderful talent for taking fragments of historical facts and breathing life into them through her fiction. She has matched her debut with another disturbing and haunting novel." - Sunday Herald (UK)

From the author of Burial Rites, "a literary novel with the pace and tension of a thriller that takes us on a frightening journey towards an unspeakable tragedy." -Paula Hawkins, bestselling author of The Girl on the Train

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Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

does not disappoint.
“The Good People are cunning when they are not merry. They do what pleases them because they serve neither God nor Devil, and no one can assure them of a place in Heaven or Hell. Not good enough to be saved, and not bad enough to be lost”

The Good People is the second novel by award-winning Australian author, Hannah Kent. It’s 1825, and Nora Leahy lives in a small mountain village near the Flesk River, about ten miles from Killarney. When John O’Donoghue and Peter O‘Connor, two men of the village bring the body of her just deceased husband, Martin to their cabin, she is understandably distraught. But her very first thought is to ask Peter to take her grandson, Micheal, to her nearest neighbour, Peg O’Shea. She knows the cabin will soon fill with neighbours, and doesn’t want Michael seen.

Two months earlier, her son-in-law, Tadgh Kelliher had brought news of the passing of her only daughter, Johanna, and left their son, Micheal in his grandparents’ care. But four-year-old Micheal cannot walk, cannot talk, and screams inconsolably much of the time. Nora is now left to care for him alone, and she knows the village will be superstitious about his deformities.

Peg suggests she needs help, so she hires fourteen-year-old Mary Clifford at the hiring fair in Killarney. Mary does her best, but Nora is desperate to bring Micheal back to the healthy state she remembers when he was two. When the local woman “with the knowledge”, Nance Roche sees Micheal, she tells Nora he is likely a changeling: she knows how to bring back Nora’s grandson and banish this unwanted fairy.

“Nance knew that the only reason they had allowed her this damp cabin between mountain and wood and river for twenty-odd years was because she stood in for that which was not and could not be understood. She was the gatekeeper at the edge of the world. The final human hymn before all fell to wind and shadow and the strange creaking of stars. She was a pagan chorus. An older song”

“Nora saw the boy as Nance saw him then. A wild, crabbed child no heavier than the weight of snow upon a branch. A clutch of bones rippling with the movement of wind on water. Thistle-headed. Fierce-chinned. Small fingers clutching in front of him as though the air were filled with wonders and not the smoke of the fire and their own stale breath”

Kent bases her tale on a real life event, so reading the Author’s Note last will avoid spoilers. With her gorgeous descriptive prose, Kent easily evokes the day-to-day village life in early 19th century Ireland. The depth of her research into this period is apparent in every paragraph, but all those little details are woven seamlessly into the story: things like the average diet (potatoes, dairy products, tea and poitin), death rituals, footwear (none), customs, beliefs and common sayings give the tale authenticity.

This was an era when religious belief existed side by side with folk belief. Natural occurrences like stillbirth, heart attack, accidental injury, poor milk production or low crop yield were often seen as signs or omens of something sinister; rituals to avoid these were a daily practice. Kent paints a picture of a village where jealousy, resentment, rumour and superstition lead to a sort of mass hysteria.

Each of Kent’s three main characters has very human flaws, even when their intentions are good: “Nora had always believed herself to be a good woman. A kind woman. But perhaps, she thought, we are good only when life makes it easy for us to be so. Maybe the heart hardens when good fortune is not there to soften it”.

Her final evocative paragraph (“The air was sweet and damp. A morning mist rolled down off the mountains and their purple skins. Hares moved lightly through the heather, white tails scuttling through the dark tangle of brambles before the rowan trees, blossom-white, the clover. The lane was empty before her, and there was no movement in the waiting valley, no wind. Only the birds above her and, in the slow unpeeling of darkness, a divinity of sky”) confirm Kent’s deserved place in historical fiction. Kent’s second novel does not disappoint.

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Author Information

Hannah Kent Author Biography

Photo: Nicholas Purcell

Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide, Australia in 1985. Her first novel, the international bestseller, Burial Rites (2013), was translated into 28 languages and was shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) and the Guardian First Book Award. It won the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year, the Indie Awards Debut Fiction Book of the Year and the Victorian Premier's People's Choice Award, and was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, The Good People was published in 2016 in Australia and New Zealand and 2017 in the UK and North America.

Hannah is also the co-founder and publishing director of Australian literary publication Kill Your Darlings.

Link to Hannah Kent's Website

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