Archive for the 'Historical' Category

Book Review: The Good People by Hannah Kent

The Good People by Hannah Kent takes us to a remote valley in south-west Ireland in 1825. Times are hard, crops fail, people sicken, babies die, and despite the insistence of the local priest that the old ways are pagan and forbidden, many attribute their misfortunes to the Good People, the fairies.

It is in these hard times that three women come together. Nóra Leahy, who, within the space of a year, has lost first her daughter and then her husband, and now is burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál, who has changed from a lively energetic two-year-old to a helpless child unable to walk or speak. Mary Clifford, a fourteen-year-old girl who Nóra hires to help care for Micheál, and becomes her eyes and ears in the village, where people whisper of otherworldly interference in his condition. And Nance Roche, a herbalist and a healer, who is reputed to be able to commune with the Good People, and is Nora’s only hope in her quest to get her grandson back.

This book is utterly absorbing. Kent has built a truly believable world, where the hardship and turmoil of the times immerses the reader and draws them into Nóra’s life. Her tragedies are very real, and her obsession with finding a cure for her grandson heartbreaking. The dynamics between the villagers is expertly exposed and the suspicion and mistrust of this closely bound community, whose fear of the unknown is fuelled by the priest, Father Healy, is countered brilliantly by their desperate need for answers to their problems and a cure for their ailments. Told from the point of view of each of the three women, the story unfolds at a natural pace, the rising tension keeping the reader on edge and burning the midnight oil.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

I loved Jasper Jones. The characters were engaging, the prose lyrical yet easy to read, the setting solid and real. The story starts out with 13 year-old Charlie Bucktin reading late into the night, unable to sleep due to the oppressive heat of an Australian summer. Along comes Jasper Jones knocking on his window, urging him to come out. He desperately needs his help. Jasper is the outcast of the small mining town of Corrigan, mixed-raced and solitary, he is the first to be blamed when anything goes wrong. And yet Charlie finds him compelling and cannot resist the impulse to sneak out of the house and follow Jasper deep into the bush where he witnesses something that changes his life irrevocably.

Silvey has a unique voice, the ability to draw out tension and bring it to a feverish conclusion, all the while masterfully weaving in the subplots of this coming-of-age story. There is young love, racism, families falling apart and unspeakable secrets. Highly recommended.

Book Review: The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton

Kate Morton’s The Shifting Fog, also published as The House at Riverton, is the story of two sisters, Hannah and Emmeline, and the secret they share. The story is told from the point of view of their housemaid, Grace, now 98 years old, whose memories are sparked by a film director intent on making a film about the manor house at Riverton and the events that led to the tragic death of a young poet in the summer of 1924.

Morton masterfully captures the essence of the Edwardian age, evoking images of the glitter and extravagances of the upper class, as well as the drudgery of the working and living conditions of those ‘in service’, and effectively conveys the attitudes and mindset of the various characters.

Grace is a likeable character, especially in her 98-year-old self. There are times, however, when it seems that she is lurking in the background for the sole purpose of seeing and telling the story of Hannah and Emmeline. Her fascination for the two sisters, and their brother David, seems to start as an only child’s yearning for the company of others her age, and a fascination for the types of games they play that were never a part of her lower-class upbringing. However it soon becomes an obsession that continues into adulthood as a fixation on and loyalty to Hannah that is somewhat unbelievable in the sacrifices she makes.

The mystery is alluded to throughout the book, but does not really start to unravel until the second half of the book. At that point the pace picks up, accelerating to what seems a preordained climax, fated in the way of classic tragedies by misunderstandings, misguided loyalty, untold secrets and an inability to halt the inevitable.

Overall an enjoyable read for those who love historical mystery, romance and the unshakable tragedy of secret love triangles.