The Good People

by Hannah Kent

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Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2017.

Three women are at the heart of this beguiling, elemental novel, in which the dialogue dances, and the force of Irish fairy lore weaves its eerie, all-consuming ways through a superstitious rural community in the early nineteenth century.

Nóra’s husband was “a fit man, in the full of healthy” when he dropped down dead at a crossroads reserved for the burial of suicides. Nóra has already lost her daughter this year, and now cares for her grandson Micheál who, inexplicably, has ceased speaking and walking. In the words of Mary, the young girl who comes to work for Nóra, he’s like a “strange scarecrow”, “a baby’s plaything, made from sticks and an old dress”. The locals whisper that he’s a changling, that his mother was carried away by the Good People (the fairies), that he played some part in his grandfather’s untimely passing. Terrified of him, (Nóra’s nights are “shattered with the boy’s screaming”), and at her wits end, she takes the desperate measure of whipping Micheál with nettles, thinking the sting will make him move. It’s then that a neighbour says Nóra must seek advice from Nance of the Fairies. With her wise woman’s knowledge of herbs and spirits, Nance is “a pagan chorus”, “the gatekeeper at the edge of the world”, and has healed many a person in need. Although the new priest “has the word out against her”, healing is what she does, and so Nance agrees to “put the fairy out of [Micheál]”. As further misfortunes are blamed on the child, the three women work to restore him amidst an atmosphere charged with increasing hostility.

Inspired by a real-life event, this is an absolutely stunning account of a poor community clinging to superstition and ritual in order to make sense of their isolated world. Chilling, and charged with earthiness, I loved it. ~ Joanne Owen

The Walter Scott Prize Judges said:
‘This is a marvelously physical evocation of rural Ireland, which is deeply personal without ever being mawkish.  With a cracking good narrative, Hannah Kent has conjured up an entire world that most of us would never see or know about, and has created three entirely different female characters who resonate long beyond the novel.  The hold of the church and of superstition over the people is both totally believable and plausible.'

Joanne Owen

The Good People Synopsis

County Kerry, Ireland, 1825. NORA, bereft after the sudden death of her beloved husband, finds herself alone and caring for her young grandson Micheal. Micheal cannot speak and cannot walk and Nora is desperate to know what is wrong with him. What happened to the healthy, happy grandson she met when her daughter was still alive? MARY arrives in the valley to help Nora just as the whispers are spreading: the stories of unexplained misfortunes, of illnesses, and the rumours that Micheal is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley. NANCE's knowledge keeps her apart. To the new priest, she is a threat, but to the valley people she is a wanderer, a healer. Nance knows how to use the plants and berries of the woodland; she understands the magic in the old ways. And she might be able to help Micheal. As these three women are drawn together in the hope of restoring Micheal, their world of folklore and belief, of ritual and stories, tightens around them. It will lead them down a dangerous path, and force them to question everything they have ever known. Based on true events and set in a lost world bound by its own laws, The Good People is Hannah Kent's startling new novel about absolute belief and devoted love. Terrifying, thrilling and moving in equal measure, this long-awaited follow-up to Burial Rites shows an author at the height of her powers.

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The Good People Press Reviews

'Kent conjures up with exceptional intensity and empathy a world in which folk beliefs hold as much sway over people's minds as religious faith ... It would have been all too easy to present this story as a conflict between rational enlightenment and peasant superstition, but the main strength of Kent's narrative is that it avoids such a simple dichotomy. 'I have told you my truth, Nance tells the court during the trial scenes that provide the book's climax. Such is the power of Kent's imaginative sympathy with her characters that this becomes not merely the mantra of a deluded old woman, but a moving statement of her continuing faith in her own vision of the way the world works ... The Good People is an even better novel than Burial Rites - a starkly realised tale of love, grief and misconceived beliefs' Sunday Times

'Lyrical and unsettling, The Good People is a vivid account of the contradictions of life in rural Ireland in the 19th century. A literary novel with the pace and tension of a thriller, Hannah Kent takes us on a frightening journey towards an unspeakable tragedy. I am in awe of Kent's gifts as a storyteller.' -- Paula Hawkins, bestselling author of The Girl on the Train

'The Good People is, like Burial Rites, a thoroughly engrossing entree into the macabre nature of a vanished society, its virtues and its follies and its lethal impulses. The Good People takes us straight to a place utterly unexpected and believable, where amidst the earnest mayhem people impose on each other, there is no patronizing quaintness, but a compelling sense of the inevitability of solemn horrors' -- Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler's Ark (winner of the Booker Prize)

'Beautiful ... the setting and the characters drew me in immediately and kept me completely absorbed' -- Claire King, author of The Night Rainbow

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9781447233350
Publication date: 09/02/2017
Publisher: Picador an imprint of Pan Macmillan
Format: Hardback

Book Information

ISBN: 9781447233350
Publication date: 9th February 2017
Author: Hannah Kent
Publisher: Picador an imprint of Pan Macmillan
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 400 pages
Genres: eBook Favourites, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Reading Groups,
Categories: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945),

About Hannah Kent

Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide in 1985. As a teenager she travelled to Iceland on a Rotary Exchange, where she first heard the story of Agnes Magnusdottir. Hannah is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and is completing her PhD at Flinders University. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Burial Rites is her first novel. Author photo © Nicholas Purcell

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