Hannah Kent’s remarkable new novel, The Good People, is set in an isolated valley in the west of Ireland early in the 19th-century.
Nóra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál. 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, Nóra 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 Micheál. For although her neighbours are wary of her, it is said that 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 …
Hannah Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, was acclaimed worldwide and it went on to be shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Stella Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. There are echoes of Burial Rites in The Good People. Both are historical novels in which human tragedy plays out against the rhythms of the natural world, and once again Kent displays an amazing ability to immerse herself in an unfamiliar landscape and to give that landscape life and voice. In The Good People the central characters wonderfully complex allowing the reader to feel both repulsed and intensely empathetic all at the same time.
I adored this novel.