THE GOOD PEOPLE by Hannah Kent

thegoodpeopleSimply brilliant. That’s how I’d describe this book. Evocative and touching with simmering darkness, Hannah Kent’s The Good People is a fabulous piece of historical fiction inspired by true events.

I’ve heard many good things about Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, which I haven’t yet read, and so I came to read The Good People as a first time reader of Kent’s work. I have to say, the rave reviews touting her writing style are totally justified.

The year is 1825 and in a small village near Killarney, in Ireland, Nance Roche is the village “handy women” or “keener”, a healing woman who aside from being the town midwife also works with natural remedies to heal all manner of ailments.

She was the gatekeeper at the edge of the world. The final human hymn before all fell to wind and shadow and the strange creaking of starts. She was a pagan chorus. An older song.

Nora has unexpectedly lost her husband and, after the death of her daughter a year previously, is forced to raise her four-year-old grandson alone. Only Micheal isn’t like other children; he is weak, he cannot walk, he does not speak and he cries all the time. Nora is certain that something, a changeling, has taken over her grandson’s health and that with the right remedy he can be restored to his former health. She enlists Nance’s help to heal the boy. Nance is convinced that Micheal has been taken by the fairies, and she conceives of ways to “put the fairy out of him”. The path the Nora and Nance embark upon is fraught with peril and ultimately they must pay a price for their actions.

Through this engrossing tale, Kent explores 19th century Irish fairy lore and how folk lore formed a deep part of village life belief systems as did the use of herbal medicines. Kent has the ability to draw the reader into the world that she has created and keep you there until the very last page. Her characters are well crafted and although I could sense that tragedy was coming, I still felt compassion for Nance, who believed she was doing the right thing to dispel the fairy that had taken over Micheal’s body. She has the gift of healing and her intentions are pure. Nora, consumed by grief at the loss of her husband and daughter, and afraid of village gossip, will do anything to have her grandson returned to her. Therein lies the conflict between belief and madness and how far someone will go to be with the ones they love.

A truly touching, evocative story written by a truly talented author. I highly recommend you put this book on your reading list. The Good People has been short-listed for the Indie Book Awards 2017.

Rating: 5/5

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The Good People by Hannah Kent (Pan Macmillan Australia 2016)

EPUB format: 9781925483789

To find out more about Hannah Kent’s new title, or her previous titles, visit her website.

Other ways to connect with Hannah Kent:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HannahKentAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hannahfkent

ELEMENTAL by Amanda Curtin

Elemental

It’s been a long time since I’ve read such an evocative, richly woven story that drew me into the depth of the pages so convincingly that I felt I was experiencing the life of the character in Technicolor.

Elemental is the story of Meggie Tulloch, a Scottish lass from Roanhaven, who promises that she will never resign herself to the harsh life of the cold, wind-blown fishing village that generations of her family were born into and never left. She promises herself that she will never carry a man on her back from the shore to the fishing boats so that his socks may remain dry.

We first meet Meggie as an old woman who, sensing she is dying, decides to write selected stories of her life as a gift for her granddaughter, Laura. Meggie’s story is one of love found and lost and of family and secrets that are fiercely hidden from prying eyes but that live on, eating away at the hearts of those who carry their knowledge. Meggie’s life is about many things but one element that stood out to me is her remarkable strength and endurance: the enduring determination in her young heart to follow her dreams and leave Roanhaven and venture into the world, taking her from the icy cold winds at the top of the world to the endless blue skies and scathing heat of Fremantle, in Western Australia; the physical endurance of fingers eaten and disfigured by salt through her working as a fish gutting girl on the Shetland Isles; the endurance to keep going in the face of despair at the loss of so many people that she loves; and the endurance to overcome her fears and open her heart to the joys that life delivers like sunshine on a rainy day. Spanning several generations, Elemental highlights the strength of women, their capacity for love and friendship, laughter and forgiveness, and just getting on with things in a world dominated by men, because that’s how it’s always been.

Elemental is a testament to Amanda Curtin’s ability to turn words into beautiful, evocative and haunting lines of prose. Contributing to the success of this book is the vivid characterisation and voice of Meggie as she tells her story. The depth of Curtin’s historical research is evident and this has allowed her to create the rich background against which the story is told. The use of Scottish, Doric and Shetland words enhance the sense of connection to time and place, bringing Meggie and her family members to life. There is a succinctness to the writing that drives the narrative forward and each sentence has been weighed and considered, shaped by the sharpness of an editor’s eye, resulting in prose that flows, and rolls, and swells. It’s magic.

Elemental by Amanda Curtin. Published by UWA Publishing.              

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Great New Reads

Murdering Stepmothers by Anna Haebich

Three small children are dead. Did they die of natural causes or is Martha Rendell  the evil stepmother who killed them? Perth in the 1900s is a harsh place to live and children often fall victim to diphtheria and typhoid. Arsenic and spirits of salts are common ingredients in home remedies. The citizens of Perth, incensed at such a shocking crime, demand that Martha be punished.

Based on a true events,  this compelling novel brings to life the story of Martha Rendell – the last woman to be hanged in Western Australia. Told through the voices of the photographer, the detective, the doctor and the reverend, Haebich successfully portrays the people, the mood and the harsh realities of life in Perth in the early 1900s.

There are startling flaws in the prosecution’s case, the press incites the general public into a frenzied state, and bigotry, slander and the dismal state of women’s rights makes this a compelling yet tragic story.

Haebich handles the subject matter well and the different voices are a great way to introduce varying viewpoints as well as introduce the facts of the case. Did Martha kill the children or was an innocent woman hanged? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Sustenance by Simone Lazaroo

On a tropical Balinese island, the guests and staff at a small resort are taken hostage. Perpetua, the cook, finds herself providing nourishment to the guests, staff and their captors.  Her love and understanding of the sustenance of food helps the hostages to navigate their  through the trauma. Everyone emerges changed in some way.

This enchanting novel combines Australian and Balinese stereotypes and then disintegrates them. The characters are well-rounded and while they reflect the cultures that they come from, they are given room to change. Lazaroo weaves love, greed, racism, sensual food and the frailty of the human condition into this rich and suspenseful novel. A wonderful read  that should be on everyone’s bookshelf.

Holy Water by James P Othmer

Henry Tuhoe works for a multi-national conglomerate that has just made him redundant. They have, however, offered him a position setting up a bottled water call centre in the far-flung Kingdom of Galado. Henry’s marriage is on shaky ground: his beautiful wife demands he get a vasectomy, then won’t let him touch her. The job in Galado put’s Henry in the path of a sociopath monarch, moral conundrums, an Aussie intent on getting lost, and a woman intent on redeeming his soul and her country.

This novel confronts the myth of contentment attached to settling down, buying a house in the ‘burbs and having 2.5 children. It tackles the subject of large corporations outsourcing to third-world countries and the resulting repercussions in an engaging and entertaining way. Othmer’s advertising background gives depth and credibility to the story and his flowing writing style make this book an easy read.

Where Have You Been? by Wendy James

A house in the Northern  beaches suburbs, two cars, two kids: Ed and Susan Middleton couldn’t ask for more. Life is just about perfect. That perfection is shattered by the death of Susan’s mother and the sudden reappearance of Karen, Susan’s sister who has been missing for the past twenty years. Only Karen, now known as Carly, seems different. Susan can’t quite put her finger on why. Carly reveals different things about herself to different people. Is she really Karen? Susan’s life will spin out of control before she finds the answer.

Wendy James writes this thriller with conviction. Is Carly really Karen? James keeps you guessing right until the end. This story twists and turns and twists again and just when you think the game is up, it takes off again. Told through Ed, Susan and Karen’s eyes, this techniques gives the reader a sense of being right in the story with the characters, adding to the tension.