Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
There’s no doubt that Hannah Kent is a good writer. Her debut novel Burial Rites proved that. I was excited at the prospect of reading another of her books.
I found the novel The Good People by Hannah Kent difficult to read. Lives governed by superstition and grinding poverty, villages ruled by gossip and suspicion and no help from the state or the church. Consider the difficult life of a widow (Nóra) in that setting trying to raise a paraplegic grandson but fearing that he’s been ‘swept’ by the fairies. It’s grim, unsettling, claustrophobic and at times nauseating. If it wasn’t my book for book group this month I may have set it aside in favour of something warmer to help my commute pass more comfortably. A very good book though, written with insight and empathy.
Nóra reflects on a moment of rage after her grandson pulled out a clump of her hair
When she had slapped him she had felt on the brink of something dark, something she knew she would not be able to come back from. There was no knowing what she might have done had Mary not come inside at that moment, and it frightened her.
What has happened to me?
Nòra had always believed herself to be a good woman. But perhaps, she thought, we are good only when life makes it easy for us to be so. Maybe the heart hardens when good fortune is not there to soften it.
And this reflection on elderly women is timely. In Australia the number of homeless people is increasing and the fastest growing demographic of people experiencing homelessness is single women over the age of 55. An elderly, single woman, Nance Roach who is an outsider to the village, reflects
An old woman without a man is the next thing to a ghost. No one needs her, folk are afraid of her, but mostly she isn’t seen
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission
In 2016 the Women’s Property Initiative revealed that 34 per cent of single women over 60 live in permanent income poverty and by age 65, women retire with about one third of the superannuation that men accumulate.
If that’s the situation in wealthy, modern Australia, it must have been unbearable to walk anything other than the traditional paths available to women in the times before WWII, when women joined the workforce. Kent makes it clear the the options available to women in Ireland in the 1820s were very few, especially outside of the towns.
I will close with a nice summary from a good review in The Guardian
Kent has a terrific feel for the language of her setting. The prose is richly textured with evocative vocabulary – skib, spancel, creepie stool – and despite occasionally straining a little too hard for poetic effect, the overall result is to transport the reader deep into the rural Irish hinterlands. This is a serious and compelling novel about how those in desperate circumstances cling to ritual as a bulwark against their own powerlessness.