the good people

The Good People by Hannah Kent

You know how it can be so easy to envy a person for their talent but also instantaneously forgive them for the beauty they bring to your life?

May I present: Hannah Kent. 

I can't believe it's been more than three years since her first novel, Burial Rites. Usually it seems to take forever when you are always anxiously awaiting the next novel from a favourite author but this wasn't too painful (and, in fact, I bought the book from the UK when it was released in February, but it's been a discombobulated year).

In any case, she's still amazing, you guys! I hesitate to say even better than Burial because I thought Burial was top notch already, but I dunno, I might have to whisper it: even better


I was recommending this today to a friend who read Burial and she literally hunched her shoulders up to her ears and shivered, reliving the incredible atmospheres Icelandic atmosphere Kent created. She does it again here, both in the physical environment and the societal and emotional. Even the characters you end up polarized or even horrified by, you can still (fully!) understand their justifications and how they came to their ends and decisions (okay, with the exception of one guy). Set in 1825 Ireland, this is now simply how I see/feel early 19th-century Ireland. Period. There just isn't any other acceptable view. 

"Áine washed Martin as tenderly as if he had been her own husband. At first Nóra watched, clutching the prayer beads so tightly that the wood baubled her skin into welts. She could not believe that it was her husband naked before them, his belly painful-white. It was shameful for another woman to see the pale secrets of his body. When she stood and held her hand out for the cloth, Áine passed it to her without a word. She washed him then, and with every movement of her hand, she farewelled the boned curve of his chest, the sweep of his limbs. 

How well I know you, she thought, and when she felt her throat noose tighter, she swallowed hard and forced her eye to the neat cobwebbing of veins across his thighs, the familiar whorl of his hair. She did not understand how Martin's body could seem so small. In life he had been a bear of a man, had carried her on the night of their wedding as though she was nothing more than sunlight."

"'Some folks are born different, Nance. They are born on the outside of things, with a skin a little thinner, eyes a little keener to what goes unnoticed by most. Their hearts swallow more blood than ordinary hearts; the river runs differently for them.'"

"David had warned her to take a good look at their faces. If a man has a red nose, he's a man in liquor and you'd best avoid his house because you can be sure all the money goes on the drink and not on those under his roof. The women with puckered mouths? Mary, gossip is sour. They'll be watching your every move. Best find a face where's there's little shadow of a frown and their eyes are all crow's feet. They've either been staring at the sun all their lives, or they're a kind soul, and you can be sure that whether 'tis work in the field or smiling that gave them such a face, you'll be better of with them."

"'Powerful poitín,' Nance muttered, taking a swig of her own. She sat back down by the fire. She was prepared to wait. Sometimes a listening ear was all that was needed. Just silence and time in a cabin where there was no chatter, or stories, or neighbours. Where there was nothing but a fire and a woman. A woman they didn't desire. A woman whose tongue didn't slip secrets to other wives. Just an old woman with an ear and a taste for the smoke and the drink. That was worth slipping out of their cabins for, worth the walk between the lazy beds and the mossed walls to visit her in the fading hours. Nance knew the power of silence."

Burial Rites was (and is) powerful; I believe The Good People places Kent into the my top handful of favourite authors.