In the year 1825, in a remote valley lying between the mountains of south-west Ireland, three women are brought together by strange and troubling events.
Nóra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson: a boy who suffers from a mysterious malady and can neither walk nor speak. Unable to care for the child alone, Nóra hires a servant girl, Mary, who soon hears whispers in the valley about the blasted creature causing grief to fall on the widow’s house.
Alone, hedged in by rumour, Mary and her mistress seek out the only person who might be able to help Michaél. For although her neighbours are wary of her, it is said that Nance Roche has the knowledge. That she consorts with Them, the Good People. And that only she can return those whom they have taken …
Chosen for our book club this is Hannah Kent’s second novel and like her first, ‘Burial Rites‘ it is a grim read.
Set in the remote area of south-west Ireland in 1825 it tell of the events leading up to the downing death of a very disabled four year old boy. His grandmother has been his carer after the death of her daughter and more recently her husband. She hires a young teenage to help with his care and other duties. Some of the people in the village believe in ‘The Good People’ (fairies with the knowledge to ‘sweep’ people to join them in their realm and replace them with a ‘changeling’). Because of the boy’s strange behaviour, they are convinced that he has been ‘swept’ by the ‘Good People’ and seek help by Nancy Roach, an old woman who is said to have knowledge to heal people.
Around these three main characters are many villagers all of whom are poor, illiterate and living in rudimentary huts, which are often shared with a milking goat. From the beginning Kent sets up an atmosphere charged with menace, superstition and destitution in a cold, wet environment. Kent writes brilliantly about this setting which is a critical part of the novel.
Not a happy read but one has to admire the skill of this author to keep her audience reading what is a perfectly awful tale….
6/10 – Read by Dundas Readers Book Club