The Good People (Hannah Kent, Picador)
Nóra Leahy has suffered great misfortune. It is 1825 in the far west of Ireland, and her beloved husband has just died, most ominously, at a crossroads, only a few months after their daughter’s death. Nóra is left to care for her grandson, Micheál, but the thriving toddler she last saw is now a four-year-old who has lost the use of his legs, cannot speak and is given to uncontrollable screaming. She engages a young girl, Mary, to help, but as Micheál’s problems continue, she turns to local handy woman Nance for advice, for she is convinced that he is not her grandson, but a changeling—a fairy left in place of the boy. As winter closes in on the community, misfortunes multiply, and the villagers, encouraged by their new priest, start to grow suspicious of Nance and her old ways. And when none of Nance’s remedies drive the fairy out, she must resort to more powerful, more dangerous cures. Hannah Kent’s much-anticipated second novel is a thoroughly atmospheric and involving read with beautifully turned descriptions that show off Kent’s craft, although the difficulty of rendering the Irish cadence without resorting to cliché is sometimes evident in the dialogue. Where it most satisfies is in the depiction of grief and faith, at a time when being a good Christian did not preclude a deep belief in older ways of seeing the world. Readers eager to see how Kent has followed up her bestselling debut Burial Rites should not find themselves disappointed.
Lindy Jones is a senior buyer and bookseller at Abbey’s Bookshop in Sydney