The Good People- Hannah Kent (Picador 2017)

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Having only very recently read another Picador publication “The Wonder” by Emma Donoghue it is easy to see parallels between that and this book,  Australian author Hannah Kent’s second novel.

Both are set in nineteenth century Irish villages and feature the highly questionable treatment of a child as central.  In both novels belief overshadows rational thought.  In “The Wonder” it is religious fervour which proclaims a child not eating as a sign of the miraculous, in “The Good People” religion is itself at odds with the lore of fairies and the superstition of deeply entrenched folklore.  The local priest can only speak out about this, his influence upon it is limited.  In many ways this makes for a book that is darker than Donoghue’s but both are equally effective.

When the son of Nora Leahy’s recently deceased daughter fails to develop in the way he should the locals believe that he is a changeling and that the real Michael has been swept away by the fairies (the “good people” of the title). It is when Nora seeks the help of the isolated local wise woman Nance (described by some as the “herb-hag”) that Nora begins to believe they can get the real Michael back.

The evocation of life in this Irish valley a day’s walk form Killarney, Co. Kerry, is very strong.  Is there currently some masterclass about recreating the hardships of nineteenth century rural life dominated by peat, mud and potatoes that both Kent and Donoghue attended as they both manage to get this over very convincingly.  It is a tough existence where the survival of the community is so much to the fore that superstition provides a strong grounding for luck or lack of it.  Kent has used a real incident as her starting point and has developed believable characters and highly plausible situations. At times this can make for difficult reading as misery is heaped on the unfortunate child “to put the fairy out of it.”

Anyone expecting tweeness so close to the realm of the fairies would be wrong.  What you get from this book is the real sense of how important folklore was to this village’s everyday existence.  This suggests seamless research as the book is saturated with the feel of the times.  It is dark, has a strong sense of foreboding, with inevitable tragedies and is a very involving read.

fourstars

 

The Good People is published in the UK hardback by Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan  on the 9th February.  Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for an advance review copy.

The Wonder Lover – Malcolm Knox (Allen and Unwin 2016)

 

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Critically acclaimed Australian author and journalist Malcolm Knox’s fifteenth book is a tall tale of a serial bigamist.  John Wonder has three wives located in different countries and three sets of children all called Adam and Evie.  His life has become a balancing act for him to be the husband and father he is expected to be.  Narrated collectively, in a fashion, by the children this is the story (and it feels very much a story throughout) of how this came to be.

John Wonder has what I would have, as a child, considered a dream job.  Devoted to World records and Norris Mcwhirter’s work with Guinness in particular he is an Authenticator of record-breaking bids and his travels in this capacity have led to his philandering.  For a man so obsessed with order and facts his personal life hovers on the edge of  free-fall and things get worse for him when he falls in love with a woman associated with the world’s oldest person.  Wonder is a purposely bland individual, not wanting to stand out from the crowd.  We all know it is the quiet ones that need watching out for!

I very much enjoyed the first half of the book but did feel distanced by the narrative style.  Plot-wise I was looking to it to move on more.  Knox sets up well the complexity of the situation through the view point of the children but there was not the anticipated build.    I was looking forward to his duplicity being revealed and consequences being faced but the revelations were not as explosive as I was hoping.  I’m not sure where our sympathies are supposed to lie as readers, because the factual nature of the narrative presents us more with an understanding of the reasons for the events rather than empathy.

I would imagine that female-dominated reading groups would have a great time taking John Wonder to task but ultimately his tale is not as rich as I had hoped.

threestars

The Wonder Lover was published by Allen and Unwin in April 2016