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Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Tag

Pervasive Superstition   Leave a comment

Hannah Kent has a gift for describing squalor and the role of superstition among the most vulnerable. This talented writer, whose debut novel, Burial Rites, was set in Iceland, now transports readers to rural Ireland in The Good People. The ambiguous title refers to the name given to evil faeries and those with virtuous, albeit misdirected, intentions.

Set in nineteenth century rural Ireland, Kent’s engaging narrative follows three women: Nora, a recent widow, with a sickly grandson; Nance, known for her curative powers; and Mary, the young maid Nora hires to help care for the boy who can neither speak nor walk, although he once did.

Nora’s shame for her grandson is so extreme she keeps him hidden and is surprised to learn from Mary that the villagers know of his presence. In fact, they have already deemed him a changeling, a creature from another world, that of the Good People. How else can the locals explain the ill fortunes that have recently befallen their community: death, cows no longer milking, illness and more.

Nora unsuccessfully seeks medical help, then solace from the new priest who both believe the lad will soon die.

Imagining that her grandson has been abducted and the withered but breathing body is left in his place, Nora turns to Nance who is certain she has a cure. Young Mary empathizes with the helpless child and is caught in the middle. She’s skeptical of the older women and their motives. Yet, the question regarding Nance’s powers lingers.

The Good People
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Little, Brown and Company, 2016
380 pages

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Irish Storytelling   Leave a comment

weekinwinter

I’m a sucker for a Maeve Binchy novel. Yeah, I know her books are predictable, mushy and fast reads, but she gets me every time. Say what you will, Binchy is a marvelous story teller, and I was saddened to learn she died last summer. A Week in Winter was published posthumously.

Her last work has the requisite characters: independent women who are misled by handsome but unreliable men; ne’er do well young men who, despite the odds, turn their lives around; well-meaning parents who misunderstand their adult children; and, well, many more. For the most part, they are all quite lovely — young and old alike.

Chicky Starr left her family home on Ireland’s west coast as a young twenty-something, only to return some 20-plus years later to renovate an old mansion overlooking the sea as a hotel. Each of the book’s chapters focuses on a different character, while continuing the thread established in getting the hotel ready for guests. Of course, the guests figure prominently in the story. A few names from some of Binchy’s other works find their way into A Week in Winter, which only makes sense: Ireland is not that large a country.

Family relationships, friendships and learning to navigate life are the themes Binchy weaves into her novels; and the Irish landscape is always as important as its inhabitants in her hands.

Binchy has authored 22 books, of which two are nonfiction; I’m glad there are still several I have yet to read.

A Week in Winter
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2013
326 pages