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.