Originally published: 21 October 2021
Author: Claire Keegan
Published by: Faber & Faber
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page count: 128
Reading dates: 19 May 2022
It is 1985, in an Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, faces into his busiest season. As he does the rounds, he feels the past rising up to meet him – and encounters the complicit silences of a people controlled by the Church.
The long-awaited new work from the author of Foster, Small Things Like These is an unforgettable story of hope, quiet heroism and tenderness.
I rarely read novellas, but sometimes squeeze in a couple if I need to try and reach my Goodreads target! This year I am actually ahead but something made me pick up Small Things Like These yesterday ahead of all the books I need to read for blog tours and I am so glad I did! I purchased a copy last month at Daunt Books in London when I did a book shop tour with Kerrie from https://ilovedreadingthis.wordpress.com/ – I’d seem countless positive reviews on Instagram and it piqued my interest.
Set in the mid 1980s in Ireland we meet Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant on the lead up to Christmas. Happily married to Eileen with 5 daughters, he is better off than many and works hard to provide for his family. His wife fondly thinks of him as being soft hearted – he will often try and help those less fortunate that himself. We hear about his childhood, how he was born to an unmarried mother and it was only the kindness of her employer that kept them together and he had a good childhood, growing up with his mother, Mrs Wilson the protestant widow whom his mother worked for and Ned the farmhand. As he grew older he often wondered who is father might be but he was never told.
One a visit to the convent to deliver coal, he sees some of the girls who live there and it disturbs him – they look unwell and mistreated. He cannot shake the feeling of wanting to be able to help the girls in some way and these thoughts pray on his mind on the leadup to Christmas.
I adored this book – Furlong was a character I warmed to instantly, a kind-hearted man who wants the best for his family and those around him. The convent in the book is in fact a Magdalene laundry which were run by the Catholic Church primarily to house “fallen women”. Shockingly Ireland’s last Magdalene laundry was not shut down until 1996 and many girls and their babies died while in their “care”. Bill’s discovery at the convent, makes him realise his life could have been very different if his mother hadn’t been lucky enough to be in Mrs Wilson’s care.
Small Things Like These is a beautifully written and touching novel – I felt emotional after finishing it and I know it is a book I will think about in the future. The novel’s strength lies in the character Furlong and I would happily read more about him and his family – I really want to know what happens next. A new author to me, Keegan is certainly one whose backlist I will be reading.
About the author:
Irish writer Claire Keegan’s debut collection of stories, Antarctica, was a Los Angeles Times Book of the Year. The Observer called these stories: ‘Among the finest recently written in English’. It was also awarded the William Trevor Prize, judged by William Trevor.
In 2007, her second collection, Walk the Blue Fields, was published to huge critical acclaim and went on to win The Edge Hill Prize for the strongest collection published in The British Isles. The prize was adjudicated by Hilary Mantel.
Foster (2010) won The Davy Byrnes Award, then the world’s richest prize for a story. It judged by Richard Ford: “Keegan is a rarity-someone I will always want to read’.”
Keegan’s stories are published in English by Faber & Faber, have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, The Paris Review, Best American Stories, won numerous awards – and are translated into 17 languages. She is internationally renowned as a teacher of creative writing.