Another novel I’ve read for our book club at work, this time a follow-up to Hannah Kent’s best-selling debut, Burial Rites, which I didn’t love anywhere as much as others did and found rather over-praised. Maybe it was the lowered expectations, but I ended up enjoying this one much better. Kent seems to have a penchant for the grim northern settings and harsh landscapes; Burial Rites was set in an isolated Icelandic community and this book moves the action just a bit further south, to a remote valley in the 1820s Ireland. The subject matter however is entirely different: The Good People concerns itself with the Irish folklore and superstitions, particularly the fairies, or the Good People, who according to the traditional beliefs belong to neither God nor Devil but exist on their own, mischievous and unpredictable terms.
I was very eager to check this book out. It got a lot of attention and praise, and the premise seemed interesting: it’s based on the real-life story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. She was beheaded in 1830 for her part in the gruesome murders of two men, one of them her employer, and the attempted cover-up by arson. Before the execution, she spent her last months at the rural home of Jon Jonsson, a middle-ranking official, and his family, a wife and two daughters. Iceland is a place that has always fascinated me, and I can’t say I’ve read many stories with it as a setting, so that made this book even more intriguing. Did it live up to the hype? Not really. I found it solid reading, but not that special, at least not consistently so.