Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Good People

Not being a great fan of Irish folklore I wasn't naturally drawn to this story, but I loved, loved, loved Burial Rites so much (see my review) that I couldn't stay away for very long. Once again I listened to the audiobook.

The Good People is again set in a rural landscape in the 1820s, this time in Ireland, not Iceland. Once again it is based on a true incident, an event that Hannah came across in a newspaper article whilst researching her first book Burial Rites.

The story centres on Nóra Leahy and her four year old grandson Michael. Nóra has lost both her husband and daughter in the past few months, and then is left to raise Michael on her own in her small cottage. However Michael has a severe illness. Michael was a normal child when Nóra saw him two years ago, but he has deteriorating significantly and now can't walk or talk and requires full time care.

Nóra employs a 14 year old girl, Mary Clifford, to help her look after Michael. Nóra turns to local healer, Nance Roche, for treatments for Michael. She can't afford a doctor, and the priest has told her that there's no hope.

Once again Hannah Kent paints an extraordinarily detailed picture of these womens lives nearly 200 years ago. Her attention to detail is extraordinary. We feel their isolation, their poverty, their struggles, their pride. 

I soon realised that I didn't really know what a changeling was. It's a term that everyone knows I think, but not one that I think of all that much. A changeling is someone who has been swapped by the fairies. A fairy child is left in place of a human child. I'm not sure why the fairies would do that, but it seems they were rather common.

Naturally I was desperate to diagnose Michael, but Hannah purposely did not create his symptoms with a particular condition in mind, and even went so far as to deliberately confuse them. I understand now why she did that (she talks about this particularly in a video with Simon Savidge), but when diagnosis is what you do it's tremendously distracting. 

I loved the narration by Caroline Lennon and indeed I think her lilting Irish accent really helped my enjoyment of the story. The 13+ hours sped by. Although it was annoying that the audiobook did not include the Author's Note (When I can I alway find a physical copy of the books I listen to, to see the layout, any illustrations or diagrams, and check that I'm not missing out on anything).

There's lots and lots of information out there on this books. Lots of interesting interviews with Hannah Kent, and other resources.

How Much History Do You Actually Need For A Historical Novel, an article by Hannah about the varying amounts of source materials she was able to find for both her books. She describes The Good People as "a work of possibility".

A great photo essay of Hannah's photos from Ireland. 

A really great podcast of Hannah Kent at Sydney Writers Festival 2017 where Hannah talks about the paucity of direct sources she was able to find, but talks of her research into the daily lives of rural women in 1820s Ireland, and how she read a lot of Irish fiction to learn the musicality of the language which she really captured.

I do so love being up to date with an author's published works. It is so rare for me. I can't wait for Hannah's third book. 

I listened to this book a few months ago, but am so far behind with blogging this will serve as my first review for the 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Is it just me or does that 2018 AWW badge remind you of childhood neapolitan ice-cream too?


Sue Bursztynski said...

I heard the author interviewed about this on Radio National. It sounded interesting.

The changeling thing was tragic - a lot of sick children were abused because they were thought to be changelings and one of the ways you could get rid of them and get your child back was to abuse them. Then the fairy mother would come for her child.

There was another theory that a changeling was an elderly fairy who wanted a holiday. Then you could do something weird in front of them like boiling water in egg shells and they would laugh and comment and so give themselves away. Somewhat better than bashing up the baby!

Louise said...

Thanks for your comment Sue. Looking back, a changeling is a reasonable construct for illnesses that the people of the time had no way of understanding. I decided (just to keep myself happy) that Michael had some kind of neurodegerative disorder, which without modern scientific/medical knowledge would be an impossible construct, especially to uneducated rural people such as the characters in this book. Certainly Michael did undergo some extraordinary, and torturous, "treatments", but these were done out of love, with the aim of cure, and understandable within the paradigm of the time.