cover image The Good People

The Good People

Hannah Kent. Little, Brown, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-24396-4

Faith, folk-knowledge, and fear coalesce in remote 19th-century Ireland in this second novel from Kent (Burial Rites). When her daughter and husband die amid what the community considers dark omens—unmoving birds, mysterious lights, a raging storm—Nóra Leahy dreads a future of backbreaking work in order to pay her rent and care for her four-year-old grandson Micheál. Once hale and healthy, the boy was delivered to Nóra’s doorstep after the sudden death of his mother mute, unable to walk, and starving. Bitter gossip at the well and by the hearth questions how Nóra’s luck soured so quickly, why the valley cows’ milk is drying up, and why none of the townspeople ever see the ailing boy. Rumors and dark signs weigh on Nóra until she seeks help outside of her comfort zone: old Nance Roche’s knowledge of the Good People—the fairies. But the old hermit’s cures of nettle, nightshade, and foxglove bring nearly as much risk as reward. Defying the valley’s newly appointed priest, Nance, Nóra, and her young housemaid, Mary Clifford, set out to determine whether Micheál is a boy or the fairy changeling the valley fears him to be. Though rife with description, backstory, and a surfeit of gossip, the book’s pervasive sense of foreboding and clear narrative arcs keep the tale immersive. Kent leads the reader on a rocky, disquieting journey to the misty crossroads of Irish folk beliefs past and future. [em](Sept.) [/em]