The Good People by Hannah Kent
Historical writers seem to fall into camps. There's the Kings and Queens lot, the Use famous people lot, the Ancient Chivalry lot, the Let's Use Obscure History lot, and the Rub The Reader's Nose In It lot. I think I sadly have to put Hannah Kent in the last lot.
They are the authors who can't see a road without making it dusty, rutted and full of pitfalls to lame horses or people -summer - or muddy - winter - full of muck and mess, filth, ordure, robbers and nastiness. Houses are always tumbling down, half ruined or shacks, and filthy. Towns always stink, every street is a running sewer and slops are thrown from every window. People are toothless/tooth rotten, dirty, flea and lice infested, pock marked and nasty. I can't work out whether it's a way for the author to say 'Look at the poor beggars aren't we lucky?' or a superior attitude to the past, a 'We are so much better than they are' nose in the air.
Having heard Hannah Kent speak lovingly about her research, her writing and this novel I hope she really isn't one of the above authors. She doesn't sound grim and grey when she talks about her characters, but perhaps she wants so much to show how badly treated the women are in her books that she underlines the muck, mess, filth and nastiness without giving the reader the occasional touch of lightness needed.
I really struggled to finish 'The Good People'. It’s a great plot idea, the changeling child and superstitions about the Others, the little people, but the story became a hard grind through the machinations of nasty people, ignorant people, and just plain stupid people. That lives in Ireland in the 19thC were hard and depressing, especially for the poor, I know, but even the hardest ground down person can hear a bird sing, see a wild flower, enjoy the sun breaking through clouds. It was the relentless nastiness of everything that got me. Every description seemed to be of stench and dirt and even the cow stank. Well, they do but it's not unpleasant, it's just cow!
Hannah Kent can write and does write well. She cares about her characters and her stories. Her research is thorough and interwoven well through the fabric of her tale. She has a lot to say about women's roles in history and today but her books are a hard read and perhaps just too dark and depressing for some readers.
View all my reviews