‘The good people’- a review

kent

A fiction addition to my ‘fairy bookshelf.’

I generally occupy the same seat in the library where I frequently work  and on the shelves opposite me in the fiction section was a hardback book, The good people by Hannah Kent.  As soon as I saw the title, I knew it would be a fairy-themed story, as those ‘good people’ are the daoine maithe in Irish Gaelic.

Having a lull in my research, I took the book out and read it in a few days.  It is a very well written tale (literary, elegant and inventive) about life in the west of Ireland in the mid-1860s.  It is not a fairy story as such, but it examines the social impact of a belief in a fairy presence and in magically induced illness and ill-fortune.

A sick and disabled child is identified as a changeling: on the one hand the family of the infant take increasingly desperate steps to expel the fairy and to recover the lost boy from under the fairy hill; on the other hand the wider community blames the changeling child as the source of a run of bad luck and poor harvests in the valley where they live.  The damaging impact of these beliefs on individuals and social relationships is what Kent examines so well in this novel.  The account is based on a true story, in every way as tragic as the burning of 26 year old Bridget Cleary in 1895- she was a woman whom her husband and neighbours had become convinced had been abducted by the local sidhe folk and who had to be recovered by means as violent as those inflicted upon baby Micheál in Kent’s story.

The good people is a very well structured and well told novel.  Kent may not be a believer, but her account of fairy belief in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century is highly detailed and beautifully articulated.  A recommended read.

See a list of my own faery titles here.

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