FICTION// The Good People- Hannah Kent

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I loved Hannah Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, with such a ferocity that I’m still recommending it on a regular basis four years since I read it. It’s because of this love, I think, that I put off reading her second novel for so long.

The Good People centres around Nóra and her grandson, Michéal, in a small Irish village in the 1820s. Nóra has been widowed and left with a grandson who we would recognise as having serious disabilities now, but is seen by those in the village as a dangerous omen, a changeling who baffles all around him and causes untold misery to visit the village: Church and medicine provide no answers, so Nóra has no choice but to turn to the local wise woman, Nan, who, with help from Nóra and her teenage maid, agrees to reclaim Michèal from ‘the Good People’, the mythological fairy folk who are numerous in Irish mythology. What follows is a series of heart breaking and horrifying quest as the women try any way they can to rescue the child.

The novel is an uncomfortable read, which I think is deliberate: as a modern audience, we have more sympathy with Michéal than his grief-stricken grandmother. But I did find the language spoken by the characters quite tricky to wrap my head around. Think about the stereotypical ‘Irish’ speech pattern- that’s there. No one I’ve ever met in Ireland speaks like that, although I’m happy to concede that the author probably researched Irish speech and dialect in the 1820s and found that people did. But it just left me cold and distracted. I understand that the authentic voice is important, but it felt so much like parody because of the stereotypes we’ve become used to.

However, what Kent can do is create atmosphere and she has done this here with the same level of success she managed in her previous novel. The creep of paranoia, desperation and suspicion runs deep. I’m hoping that, for me, whatever Kent’s third novel will be that it’ll rekindle my love for her writing.

 

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