I normally enjoy historical fiction: knowing what’s going to happen and wondering how the author will take you there. This one was a little different: it was predictable, and it moved slowly to the expected destination. The Good People, written by Hannah Kent, was very well written, which to begin with helped the slow moving tale. But it didn’t keep my attention – while I finished the book, it was tough going.
Set in the 1820s, the story commences with bad luck hitting a small Irish village: hens not laying, cows not milking, men dropping dead in the field, and women unable to have children. The main character is Nora Leahy, the Widow Leahy after her husband Martin is the one to drop dead. Martin was able to handle their grandson, Micheal, who is brought to them by his father after his mother is ‘swept’ – taken by fairies (The Good People). Nora hires a maid (Mary) for help with her grandson who she describes as ‘delicate’. Micheal is suffering from some ailment/illness which has rendered him a cripple and speechless – a “cretin”. After seeking assistance from the doctor as well as the priest to fix Micheal, who both say nothing can be done for him, Nora feels she has no other option but to ask the old woman, Nance, for help. Nance has the knowledge of the good people, knowing in the old ways, and says she can help cure Micheal and banish the ‘faery’ that has turned Nora’s grandson into a changeling.
I felt sorry for Mary, a child herself, who had stood in the marketplace to trade the only thing she could sell: herself. She cared for Micheal when his grieving grandmother, couldn’t overcome the burden of being a husbandless woman. Sleep deprived and at their wit’s end, the women sought help and were turned away by the men in their town.
Nance was a great character, and without any spoilers, you know women of that kind always find their own way.
This story reminded me of how grateful I am to be a woman of the late 20th/early 21st century. Being educated, being able to choose my own path, not being held to religion or superstition.
Rating: 2.5 stars (check my book review scale) – March 2017 Book Group book