This was my first look at Hannah Kent, as I decided that her first book Burial Rites was going to be too grim for my book group. Well, it appears one of my book group ladies thought this would be a good read for this months book group. Grim reading it was. I am in two minds as to how I feel about this book.
On the one hand the topic of fairy lore was fascinating but the setting in rural Ireland in the early 1800s was never going to be an easy or delightful read. Add to that we get, deaths, a disabled child, hunger, poverty, cold, homesickness, child labour, poor health conditions, wife beatings, superstition and the wrath of the church, well you get the picture. This is not a book you would be choosing for reading on a summer holiday at the beach. It is more suited to the cold harshness of winter, when you can snuggle down in front of the fire.
Over all, there is a sense of doom that hangs over these characters. Kent paints us a picture of life for women without men trying to survive a harsh life. Nora loses her husband not long after their daughter has died and they are coping with raising a disabled four year old in a tiny village on the side of an mountain where the old ways are deeply imbedded. She enlists the help on a young girl, Mary to take care of Michael. But grief sets in and Nora finds it increasingly hard to cope with the villagers suspicions that Michael is one of Them, a changling.
Nance the local " handy woman" sets her mind to helping her drive the fairies out of him and allow the real Michael to return from being swept away by Them, the Good People. Can Nances herbs and potions cure Michael? As with small villages everyone has something to say. For all the grimness of this era we still see the goodness and certainly plenty of evil that a small community has. Surprisingly a positive note can be taken by the end of the story.
I feel the story lost its way some what towards the middle of the story, often repeating it self. Perhaps we could have gotten to the climax sooner. I found that I was sometimes getting confused with the lesser characters as there we many side stories. I loved young Mary and could never imagine living her life or sending my children out to work at such an age. But it was a different era and it was more than likely you would be dead before forty.
For the most part I found the book to be interesting and thankful that I was born when I was. Let's call it an educational read rather than enjoyable.