“Are the Good People abroad, do you think?”
‘Tis as Nance said, “Just as day is joined to night, so does the year have its seams…And that is when They come. That is when They change their abode. Through the stitching of the year.”
Rarely does a book come along that speaks to me and the sense of my mind’s interior and imagination. After recently finishing Hannah Kent’s new book, “The Good People” however, I realized that this book fits that description, and so, I offer here a review of this fantastic novel.
Have no fear: I am NOT going to do a plot synopsis or provide any spoiler alerts, or even talk about the characters. I just wanted to tip my hat to the book for its extremely evocative descriptions of place and landscape.
Samhain Eve came upon the valley, announced by a wind that smelled of rotting oak leaves and the vinegar tang of windfall apples. Nora heard the happy shrieks of children as they traced the field walls and their dressing of brambles, plucking the last bloody berries before night fetched the púca to poison them with his breath. They emerged from the ditches in the smoky peace of twilight like a band of murderers, their hands and mouths stained purple.
The setting for “The Good People” marks the end of a time when a majority of society believed in the last vestiges of a world beyond our own. Kent describes these boundaries as “the strange hinges of the world, the thresholds between what was known and all that lay beyond” (170). It is the end of a time when people treated the Church and the “Old Ways” of superstitions and inherited lore with equal respect. The Old Ways include the belief in fairies, also known as The Good People. However, these are not the beautiful, magical sprites that I always imagine when I think of fairies/faeries. The Good People are more like troublesome spirits that exist purely to meddle in human affairs. They are “not good enough for Heaven, but not bad enough for Hell.” To this early nineteenth century Irish community, the faeries are the last best way of explaining the queerness of the world. Irrational, and impossible, yet Kent conveys their superstitions in a way that you almost think it is possible that the Good People could disrupt people’s lives by stopping the cow from giving milk, or afflicting people with strange maladies that only secret herbal knowledge can cure.
Much like this picture that I have been obsessed with ever since seeing it in London, Kent conveys a place where you wander through the woods and fields, and you wonder if the fae really do hide behind every ash and oak tree; where you might pause and think you hear unearthly music and distant revelry. The landscape has the muddied tapestry-colored murk of a medieval painting.
They followed the road in silence then, through moor ground and small swathes of trees, already bare in the steady approach of winter; past the dark, lacquered shine of holly. The grass by the roadside was browned and long and beyond, in the distance, the mountains patched with heather and rock stood silently against the sky. Spirals of smoke from turf fires accompanied them as they walked.
I highly recommend this book, particularly if you like the sort of dark and distant (in time) imagery that I am attracted to in books, photography and paintings. (See even more of my posts on this topic and similar book reviews and quotes here and here and here!)
Through her open door, [she] watched the dying year surrender to snow. The night was falling holy, as though the glory of God was in the changing of the light. Sitting in her ragged shawls, she felt the silence ring in her ears as loudly as a monastic bell.