Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Changeling

In 2013 I read Hannah Kent's debut novel Burial Rites, a fictional account of the true historical case of an Icelandic woman sentenced to death for her part in a murder. It was a gripping masterpiece, well researched and written.

Like many other Kent fans, I have been eagerly awaiting her next foray into fiction. In late 2016 she published her second novel, The Good People. Set in 1820s Ireland, the story centres on a  remote Killarney village where the locals are aware of the "Good People" - the mischievous fairies that reside near by. Initially, the idea of a novel based on folklore and fairies did not interest me, so I put it aside for a few months before deciding to crack the spine. However, once I entered Kent's world I was deeply engrossed by this compelling tale.

Nora Leahy has recently been widowed and in her grief she finds it even more challenging to care for her grandson Michael. The four year old boy is unable to walk or speak due to some mysterious malady that suddenly beset him at age two. Nora hires Mary, a teenaged girl from out of town, to assist with the care of the child. Nora also seeks support from the local doctor and the priest, both of whom offer prayers as the only option for the boy.

Nance Roche is an elderly woman who lives on the edge of the fairy forest. She knows the fairy ways and with local herbs and potions she can cure many ills. Many locals come to her for treatment of aches and pains, although the priest is convinced she does the devil's work and others view her with suspicion. Nora seeks out Nance's help to cure the boy as she becomes convinced he is a changeling, and that the fairies have her real Michael.

The inspiration for this book, as with Burial Rites, was a real life case. The author vividly creates a village of poor, uneducated, superstitious locals. The three women - Nance, Nora and Mary - are well crafted and you can feel their desperation to cure the boy. Kent's description of the environment, the flora and weather, transports the reader back in time.

I recommend this book highly to anyone wanting to lose themselves in another time and place. It would be a great read for book clubs as there are so many things to discuss.