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I can't praise this enough. A fabulous story about what happens when folklore and superstition in early19th century Ireland meet religious intolerance (in the form of a priest) and an ignorant, undereducated and often abusive rural community.
The Good People of the title refers to the fairies and their ways, something that some of the community passionately believe in; others do not. When newly-widowed Nora Leahy's disabled grandson arrives in the village he is blamed for a whole series of misfortunes that hit the community. Nora hires a maid, Mary, to help her with the child and the girl begins to form a relationship with the boy. Mary believes the child to be a cretin who needs a lot of care and attention. She sees very little empathy for the boy in Nora and is troubled by the treatment meted out to him by his grandmother.
Nora believes that the boy iis a Changeling and that she needs to persuade the Good People to return her real grandson to her. So she turns to Nance, the local wise woman who is known to have ' the knowledge' of healing in the old ways, knowledge which she claims she has gained from the Good People.
Local people turn against Nance when a new priest preaches against her sinful way of living and her heathen ways. When he also refuses to help Nora to cure her grandson he unleashes a series of events that culminate in tragedy for all three women, Nora, Nance and Mary.
This is a very superior novel written by a stellar author. One of the best pieces of historical fiction I have read or listened to. Great characters, a plot full of detail and layers and a wealth of folklore. At the end I felt that I had been allowed a glimpse into a forgotten time where life was steeped in magic and the supernatural and belief of the wrong type could get you killed. Priests versus wise women - it is always bound to end in tears, or worse. It was ever thus.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
I stayed for a few months in the west of Ireland in the 1980's and even then heard echoes of these kind of beliefs. Particularly I remember a standing stone left in place fifty foot in the air on its cone of untouched earth as the quarry men who had taken everything around it away, 'would not want to disturb the 'good people''. One hundred and fifty or so years earlier some people in the west of Ireland must have believed all manner of superstitions, and in this story things get out of hand.
Hannah Kent has beautifully drawn the women here in an engaging but increasingly tragic affair. After reading Burial Rites I was dreading her second novel in case it was not so good but I think she has brought this story alive with sympathy and understanding.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful