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The Good People by Hannah Kent

The Good People

by Hannah Kent

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
"She was the gatekeeper at the edge of the world. The final human hymn before all fell to wind and shadow and the strange crooning of stars. She was a pagan chorus. An older song."

One of the most exciting and nervous moments in the life of a dedicated reader is the minute we open the next book by a writer who produced a masterpiece whose roots are planted deep in our soul, a novel that has never really left our mind since the last page was turned. In this case, I'm talking about Hannah Kent and her debut novel "Burial Rites". I think the vast majority of those who read it adored it and those who didn't still found many things to appreciate. Her sophomore effort is no less exciting, beautiful, haunting and agonizing. The only exception is the lack of a character who could rival Agnes' powerful voice and convictions. The three women in "The Good People" don't even come close, but it doesn't matter because the mysticism that flows through Kent's exquisite own makes this novel a 5-star read.

-They say there's portent in the direction of a new year's wind.
-What does a wind from the west bring?
-Please God, a better year than last.

The previous year has brought all kinds of misfortune for Nora. She lost her daughter to a sudden, wasting disease, her husband collapsed after a heart attack and she is left with her grandson, Micheál, who has lost the power of his legs, his speech and his mind. She hires a young woman, Mary, to aid her with her load and pays frequent visits to Nanche, an old woman who claims to possess the intimate knowledge of herbs and fairies. The three women are our ears and ears in the story, each one different in her fears, but with the feeling of despair and helplessness for things beyond their understanding.

"Such a dark season of death and strangeness."

Kent sets her story perfectly. Strange accidents are taking place, the hens and the chickens are not producing their goods as before, the cold is unusually severe, the fog is too thick, the sun has darkened. For a community that is steeped in superstition and gossiping, these events mean only one thing. The Evil Eye is upon them and they are certain that more wrongs will follow.

"They have always been here. They are as old as the sea."

The Good People of the title are the Fairy Folk, the main stars in the tradition that has shaped a great part of the outstanding Irish Folk we have all come to love. Nanche believed that all misfortunes have been caused by the creatures of the world beyond and takes it upon herself to right the wrong. Whether she can do it or not is another matter. Her ally is Nora who, driven by her losses, is eager to put the blame on someone who is different, unwanted, unable to defend himself against the madness of a dark time.

"Don't be questioning the old ways."

At the heart of the story lies the legend of the Changeling. According to tradition, the fairies used to steal human babies from their cradles and leave a child of their own in their place. The fairy child was different in shape and spirit and considered evil by the community. Nora is convinced that the boy is responsible for everything, aided by Nanche. But Mary, whose bright mind is free from superstitions, has come to bond with the boy, much to Nora's dismay.

The writing in this novel is nothing short of outstanding. It is simple, mystical, poetic and loaded with tradition. Kent inserts a plethora of traditional Irish customs and superstitions in the narration, many of which play a significant part in the development of the story. Apart from an exquisite plot, this book is a wonderful folk study of the Emerald Island. It is intriguing to witness the way the superstitions shaped and controlled the lives of the residents in the past. And they still do, albeit to a much small extent. The language is beautiful, the interactions are written with respect to the setting of the story, but there are no idioms that would present problems to those who aren't familiar with the Irish dialects. The ambiguity of the convictions of the people is very effective and it was refreshing to see that there isn't much focus on a rivalry between Religion and Tradition. Apart from the local priest who tries to make the people see some sense, the villagers have fully embraced a combination of Christianity and the Old Ways. The problem is that the balance is very uneven....

The characters of the three women are very well-written, interesting but can't be compared to Agnes of "Burial Rites". Still, Kent takes us on a journey in three very different souls. Nanche and Nora are almost fanatics and Nora is a rather contradictory character, since she is against gossips but very much in fear of the Evil Eye. I can't say that I sympathized with her. I understand the depth of her pain, but she was so thick-headed and unfair. To use a well-known equivalent, she reminded me of the cruelty and narrow-mindedness of Catelyn Stark. Too bad no wedding was in sight...Nanche is very ambiguous. I still can't decide whether she truly believed in what she did or it was her excuse to make herself useful. Mary is a character that shines. She seems to live in the periphery of the action, but I feel that her importance is significant. She is like us in a sense, watching and bonding with the poor, blameless child, feeling unable to stop what is coming. I fully sided with her decisions and convictions.

Hannah Kent is a born writer. Her pen is magic, her ideas and characters jump out of the page, people of their time and place but people like us. This book is a hymn to the rich Irish tradition, a mystical, haunting, dark, violent journey to places and ideas of a more innocent, more ignorant era. It is a novel to be cherished and appreciated by readers who desire meaningful stories and knowledge in the hands of a trusted artist. It is a human study of the darkest hours of our existence, when we're faced with despair and death and don't know in whom to trust our hopes. It is a book by Hannah Kent. This should be reason enough for you to read it.... ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
What a bummer. I was very taken with Burial Rites, Kent’s first book. It was atmospheric and compelling. It felt like a window into another world—the fiction convinced in other words. This one just drags on and on. It isn’t atmospheric, compelling, or convincing. It’s the same thing over and over. So many books I read these days have the characters do the exact same thing over and over until the book ends. It’s maddening. Over and over the old witch believes in magic and tries to help, the mother is heartsick and wants relief, the maid is torn and conflicted. Over and over. A story is a structure that creates change, please god.

I am a sucker for Kent’s writing, it’s flourishes and effects, but she’s gotta start thinking about drama and change and energy scene by scene. Too much summary and what scenes there are are all stock and repetitive. No characters here, just simpletons who move through the plot. Such a bummer. Hopefully the next one will be back to form. ( )
  wordlikeabell | Apr 15, 2018 |
Hannah Kent can write! I will admit that I was already inclined to like this work because I adored her previous book, Burial Rites. I love books that evoke a sense of place and character that is palpable. She does that so very well.

I fell into the trance of this book immediately. The set up of the story is that a severely handicapped child is left with the grandparents. The grandfather was compassionate and loved the grandson, but the grandmother is afraid of the mute and disfigured child. The idea of the "good people" or fairies is wafted and she becomes convinced that her grandson has been switched with a changeling.

The way she writes is both so sinister but with compassion. You end up seeing how truly horrible things could be justified with the terrible mixture of ignorance, superstition, grief, and stubbornness. Fantastic book. ( )
  HardcoverHearts | Mar 24, 2018 |
Hannah Kent once again visits an old historical record, this time in Ireland, to produce a novel about outcast women and their mistreatment by society.

The story involves three women. Nora, an elderly widow who is caring for her severely disabled grandson. Nance a elderly woman herbalist and a bit of a spiritualist whom the destitute community discreetly go to for help with their ailments. Mary, a young girl whom Nora hires to help care for her grandson.

The poverty is overwhelming and the priest is overbearing. The women are trapped by poverty, superstition, and prejudice toward women who are not under the protection of a man. The "Good People" refer to the entities the Nance entreats for the healing of those in her care.

The story is well researched and beautifully written. If you liked the author's previous book, Burial Rites, you are in for a treat. ( )
  tangledthread | Mar 9, 2018 |
I'm still unsure of my feelings on this book but I'm going to try my best to figure this out. First of all, the writing is beautiful. This is a slow-paced story because the author focuses more on the details. You can tell it has been well-researched from the way the author describes 19th century Ireland, with its herb lore, and the superstitions regarding the fae or good people (the term used here in this novel). The novel is told from 3 perspectives: Mary, Nance, and Nora. These women are bonded together by Michael, Nora's grandson who is different from other children developmentally. I think the author did a great job of depicting these women (as well as other characters in the book) and the way they changed through their experiences. While I may not have loved all of them, I understood them and could connect with them emotionally. I really liked that the author made it hard for the reader to guess what illness Michael had; it took the attention away from the illness and focused more on the plights of the women and Michael. As I mentioned earlier, the story was slow in its pacing, which meant that there were times when I felt that the story was too detailed and dragged in plot. However, this helped me understand more about the Irish culture, which I know nothing about. I don't want to give away too much by telling you my thoughts on how the novel ended. Suffice to say that while it made me sad, it also was a good way of cementing the story back into reality and it tied everything up. I wish the story hadn't been so dismal but some stories aren't meant to be happy, and this was one of them. If you like stories that are steeped in Irish culture and deal with stigma and superstition, you would probably like this one. If you like more fast-paced novels, then this would definitely not work for you. Even though it was a bit too slow and sad for my liking, I think the quality of the writing and the story itself were quite good, which is why I'm giving this a 3/5 stars.

For more reviews, visit: www.veereading.wordpress.com ( )
1 vote veeshee | Jan 29, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
While holding few surprises, The Good People is a gripping, adept and intelligent reconstruction of the past. As in Burial Rites, although perhaps without quite the same force, Kent brings her sympathetic, detailed eye to the cramped lives of ordinary women before the dawn of any concept of individual women's rights.
The empathy Kent has for her characters is intense, and she affords them nuance and complexity: there is merit and fault in each of them. The confusion, incomprehension and torment the three central women suffer in the novel’s final act are keenly rendered.

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hannah Kentprimary authorall editionscalculated
Harms, LaurenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lennon, CarolineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When all is said and done, how do we not know but that our own unreason ay be better than another's truth?
for it has been warmed on our hearts and in our souls,
and is ready for the wild bees of truth to hive in it, and
make their sweet honey. Come into the world again,
wild bees, wild bees!

W.B.Yeats, The Celtic Twilight
For my sister, Briony.
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Nóra’s first thought when they brought her the body was that it could not be her husband’s.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
In the year 1825, in a remote valley lying between the mountains of south-west Ireland, near the Flesk river of Killarney, three women are brought together by strange and troubling events.

Nòra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheal. The boy cannot walk, or speak, and Nora, mistrustful of the tongues of gossips, has kept the child hidden from those who might see in his deformity evidence of otherworldly interference.

Unable to care for the child alone, Nora hires a fourteen-year-old servant girl, Mary, who soon hears the whispers in the valley about the blasted creature causing grief to fall upon the widow's house.

Alone, hedged in by rumour, Mary and her mistress seek out the only person in the valley who might be able to help Micheal. For although her neighbours are wary of her, it is said the old Nance Roche has the knowledge. That she consorts with Them, the Good People. And that only she can return those whom they have taken.
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Three women in nineteenth-century Ireland bond over a shared effort to rescue a child from a superstitious community that believes that his trauma-related inability to speak indicates that he is a changeling responsible for a series of misfortunes.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. Nóra and Mary enlist the help of Nance, an elderly wanderer who understands the magic of the old ways.… (more)

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