The Good People

Written by Hannah Kent
Review by Arleigh Johnson

A small village in early 19th-century Ireland is featured in this rustic tale of superstition and folklore. Nóra Leahy’s newly motherless four-year-old grandson has been delivered to her humble home a mere shadow of his former self. Unable to talk and with no use of his limbs, Micheál is believed to be a changeling—a bad omen for the village, which is experiencing a number of problems they believe to be unnaturally wrought. On one side is old Nance Roche, an herbalist who has lived in the area for 20 years, birthed their babies, and cured their ills. Opposite is the new pastor, Father Healy, who disagrees with the people’s mixture of Christianity and paganism, and is adamant that they forget the old ways with mentions of the Good People (fairies), and fully embrace the beliefs of the church.

As Nance and Nóra explore different cures for the “fairy” child, Mary, the maid-servant employed to take care of his needs, becomes increasingly resistant to their torturous remedies. Meanwhile the villagers, riled by the misfortunes heaped upon them, and by Father Healy’s Sunday pulpit speeches, are turning their backs on the two older women who were once respected fixtures of a tight-knit community.

Strange as this story may seem to readers not familiar with old Irish folktales, it has been thoroughly researched and is indeed based on a true story. The way these people lived seems shockingly medieval within its era, but there is plenty of accompanying information in the author’s note regarding their way of life. The writing is simple but powerful, and the dialect is appropriate to the characters. This, like the author’s debut novel, Burial Rites, is a deeply contemplative story that carries meaning into the modern world. It is recommended for readers of reflective literary fiction.