The Good Peo­ple

The Guardian - Review - - Fiction -

by Han­nah Kent (Pi­cador, £8.99)

Kent has an affin­ity for grim­mer cli­mates than that of her na­tive Ade­laide. Burial Rites, her 2013 best­selling de­but, was set in bliz­zard­hit Ice­land. Her sec­ond novel takes place in an 1820s County Kerry per­vaded with dark talk of curses and changelings, herbal reme­dies and rit­u­als that are de­signed to ward off the mis­chief of the “Good Peo­ple” (or fairies) of the ti­tle. A man drops dead at the cross­roads where the vil­lage buries its sui­cides. Then a child is still­born; cows do not give good milk; and a woman sets her­self on fire. But this is a place where it can­not be ac­cepted that such oc­cur­rences are ar­bi­trary or mean­ing­less. Kent bril­liantly con­jures the sly mal­ice of this folk­loric blame cul­ture, ex­plor­ing how com­pet­ing ideas – re­li­gious, med­i­cal, folk­loric – try to make sense of the bad stuff that hap­pens. She has a ter­rific feel for the lan­guage of her set­ting. This is a se­ri­ous and com­pelling novel about how those in des­per­ate cir­cum­stances cling to rit­ual as a bul­wark against their own pow­er­less­ness. Graeme Macrae Bur­net

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