BOOK REVIEW: The Good People, by Hannah Kent

BOOK REVIEW: The Good People, by Hannah KentTitle: The Good People by Hannah Kent
Published: September 19th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 464
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

 Some folk are forced to the edges by their difference. … But ’tis at the edges that they find their power.

I really, really loved Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, and I read that when it was Waterstones’s pick of the month. I was swept away by the atmospheric writing and the compelling story, so when I head that Hannah Kent was releasing a new book, I requested it and moved that book to the next spot in my reading list. The Good People is a stellar sophomore novel that weaves together the stories of three women who are involved in the horrific treatment of a child whom the women believe is a fairy changeling in a tiny village in Ireland in 1825.

In the beginning of the novel, Nora’s husband Martin dies, leaving her with her daughter’s four year old son Michael who has an unnamed disability in which he cannot speak and cannot fend for himself. Nora finds it difficult to care for the child and her household as a widow with no family on which she can rely, so she hires a girl named Mary to help with the work. When she can’t handle Michael even with Mary’s help, Nora enlists the help of Nance, the local woman trained in the art of natural healing. With the arrival of the new priest in the village, Nance is beginning to be considered a witch and evil and as a result an outcast, but she attempts to cure Michael to prove her skills to herself and to the village. Each “cure” that these women try become increasingly more dangerous until the final act is horrifically devastating.

The Good People is an atmospheric novel that balances the struggles these three women face in a changing society and the risks they must take in order to survive, no matter how dubious those risks are. It is interesting how Kent uses the tropes of the three women (the crone, the mother, and the virgin) to explore the actions and reactions of these women and the actions and reactions of others to these women. Kent also explores how the ideas of poverty and the lack of education in rural areas and ignite a fiery fear toward anyone who is different or toward the unexplainable. The best part of the novel is the last third, when everything culminates in an emotionally charged trial that showcases the growing rift between the old ways of thinking (believing in fairies, believing in changelings, and a reliance on old folklore, old pagan traditions, and old wives’ tales) and the new (following the Christian tradition and following new medical practices).

The only drawback I found to The Good People is the long set up to get to the more thrilling parts of the story. I felt like a third of the novel focuses on the slow development of Nora and Mary’s experiences with Michael, and a third of the novel focuses on Nance and a fairly long account of her life. At the end, I found this knowledge of their lives enriching to the heartrending trial, but before that, I found myself getting a little bit bored and wondering when the story would ever pick up. If you are turned off by a long build up, this might not be the novel for you. But if you are interested in novels about the experiences of women in certain periods of history, the collision between the old ways and the new, and compelling trials, this is one you you’ll want to add to your reading lists as soon as possible.

An advance readers copy was provided to me for review by Little, Brown & Co. and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Top Ten Tuesday!

Jamie at The Broke and Bookish hosts a weekly prompt, and I’ve been thinking about it all morning. Strangely enough I haven’t read many debut authors this year, so I had to do some digging on my Goodreads account. And I may have cheated just a little bit for some of them because I haven’t read their sophomore novels yet! I also really think I should be reading more debut authors, because I’ve seen some great lists on other blogs. 😀

  • Victoria Aveyard – I loved Red Queen and can’t wait to read the sequel!
  • Andy Weir – The Martian was fabulous, funny, and opened up entire discussions about going back into space, so yes! I want more!
  • Erin Morgenstern – It’s been so long since I’ve read The Night Circus, and I really can’t wait to read what she writes next (I haven’t even heard if anything’s coming out soon!).
  • Leslye Walton –  The Strange & Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender was a really beautiful and haunting story that had so many good elements of magical realism and fairy tales woven in. I’m hoping her next novel is just as enthralling.
  • Helene Wecker – Her debut novel, The Golem and the Jinni, had such a fantastic underplot that I wish was developed more, even though I enjoyed the rest of the novel!
  • Hannah Kent –  Burial Rites is a gorgeous novel set in 1850s Iceland that involves a woman and her husband’s murder. It’s a character study, and it’s a great study of women in that time and place. It was a Waterstones pick while I was studying in London, the cover drew me in, and I wasn’t disappointed.
  • William Ritter – Jackaby was such a neatly woven mystery with elements of Sherlock Holmes and magic that I can’t wait to read the sequel (even though it’s been out!).
  • Samantha Shannon –  I’m fully aware The Mime Order is out, and I haven’t yet gotten to it. I’m still excited for her career though. I listened to a chat with her and Sarah J. Maas last year, and she’s delightful.
  • Carrie Patel – Her second novel in her Recoletta series is out, and I just finished reading the first, The Buried Life. It’s a magical Victorianesque, sort of steampunk mystery that’s super engaging with great characters.
  • Scott Hawkins – He’s written computer manuals before, but his debut in fiction, The Library at Mount Char is so terrific and weird, and very reminiscent of Neil Gaiman. I hope he writes more in that universe or with those characters, because they’re so creepy and I’m still thinking about them.