The Good People by Hannah Kent | Review

The Good People by Hannah Kent is an engrossing read.

Set in County Kerry, Ireland in the 1820s it’s a richly imagined story about folk beliefs. This is a very visual, sensory and atmospheric novel. Kent describes water pooled outside a doorstep  as “tight with ice”, robins “bloodsmocked against the sky”.

The story centres on three women brought together by a disabled child.

When her husband Martin drops dead at a crossroads, Nóra Leahy is left alone with their grandson Micheál.

The son of her only daughter, Johanna, Micheál was born a healthy infant. But after Johanna’s death, he became sickly and, by the  age of 4, could no longer speak nor walk.

When Johanna’s husband leaves Micheál with Nóra and Martin, Nóra hides him away because she doesn’t want the neighbours to see his disabilities. Martin seems to have a connection with the child but Nóra sees only the changes in her grandson and she finds it hard to cope with him. So, after Martin’s death, Nóra  hires a maid, Mary Clifford, to help care for the boy. Mary is fourteen and comes from a large family. She is used to caring for young children and is kind and caring to Micheál.

The Good People and Changelings

But soon, stories about Micheál begin to spread and neighbours blame him when things go wrong. Nóra thinks he’s a changeling. She believes the ‘good people’ stole her grandson away and left a disabled child in his place. As she becomes more convinced about this, she grows more distant from the boy.

When neither priest nor doctor can help Micheál, Nóra turns to a a healer. Nance Keogh has ‘the knowledge’ to cure ailments and understands the ‘good people’ so Nóra believes that Nance can restore her grandson.

As Nóra, Nance and Mary attempt help Micheál, their efforts lead to danger and elements of the attempted cures may upset some readers. But, like Hannah Kent’s earlier work, Burial Rites, The Good People is a well-researched and absorbing read that draws you in from the first sentence and hold you till the last. I loved it.

[Disclosure: I received an advance review copy of The Good People via Netgalley]

Burial Rites – powerful, atmospheric debut novel by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a historical novel set in the 1820s and based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a work maid accused of murder who was the last woman to be executed in Iceland.

Shortlisted for the Impac Literary Award in 2015, Burial Rites is an engrossing and atmospheric read. Notwithstanding its grim subject, Hannah Kent creates a world in Burial Rites that many readers will be reluctant to leave when they reach the final page.


In Burial Rites, the main character Agnes is sent to wait for her execution on the remote farm of Jon Jonsson and his wife Margret. There, Agnes begins to tell her story to her spiritual counsellor, Assistant Reverend Thoravardur Jonsson and slowly details emerge of her relationship with Natan Ketilson, one of the two men she is accused of murdering.
That the reader knows the outcome from the start in no way takes away from the tension and suspense of a well-crafted story that reminded me a little of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and of Joseph O’Connor’s Redemption Falls although I found it more readable than both.

Burial Rites is a beautifully written, bleak novel that is strong on imagery. Kent creates a world rich in atmosphere drawing her reader in on the first page and sustaining the quality of writing right through to the end. Wind, snow and constantly circling ravens define the mood of a world where hardship and superstition are daily aspects of life.

Burial Rites is published by Picador