The long-awaited new work from the author of Foster
– Small Things Like These
[ About the Book ]
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.
[ My Review ]
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan was published October 21st with Faber & Faber and is described as ‘an unforgettable story of hope, quiet heroism and tenderness.’ For any of you who have not heard of Small Things Like These yet, let me just fill you in on just some of the amazing accolades it is receiving….
It was on Twitter that I first became aware of this little wonder of a book that has very much been gaining momentum. After a few not so subtle hints, I received a beautiful hardback copy as a gift earlier this week and quite simply devoured it in one single sitting.
Small Things Like These is set in New Ross, Co. Wexford on the South East coast of Ireland. It is the winter of 1985 and coal merchant Bill Furlong is pulling together his orders, preparing for the cold days ahead. Bill lives with his wife Eileen and his five young daughters, providing for the family by working long and tough hours. On his route he meets folk from all backgrounds, some more dependent than others on his generosity, when he extends their payment terms.
Bill’s background is complicated, different from others in the parish, but he has managed to move on and accept his life. He now has a new family and a home that he has worked hard for. As the Christmas preparations get under way, Bill encounters a situation that causes him to stop and think about his life and the path that he is currently on. He starts to ask questions and recognises that something in his daily ritual needs to change.
Bill gets up early every morning, works incredibly long hours, comes home, has his dinner and, more often than not, falls asleep, only to start the same thing all over again the following day. He chats about the small things with his wife and, to a point, is content. Yet there is something niggling him, something that is unsettling him and throwing a curve ball into his usual Christmas routine.
At just over 100 pages Claire Keegan has so eloquently captured the essence of Christmas in an Irish home in the 1980s. In 1985 I was fifteen and reading the Christmas scenes brought me right back to when my own mother would make the Christmas cake. Always iced first with the almond icing, the cake was then topped with white icing, made to resemble peaked snow, and finished off with a plastic Santa in the middle. The smell of the cake cooking, the aroma of the mince pies on the cooling tray, the fire lighting and the Christmas lights in town were all very strong memories, creating wonderful images in my mind. For that alone, I thank Claire Keegan.
Amidst the scents and chaos of the Christmas preparation, Bill Furlong is exposed to a very different side of humanity when he crosses the gates to deliver coal to the local convent, and Magdalene Laundry, near where he lives. Many of us are familiar with the expression ‘there but for the Grace of God go I’ and Bill experiences this on a bitter Winter’s day. Bill is a decent, honest and hard-working man but that December day he witnesses something that pricks at his social conscience and triggers change.
‘When he let down the tail board and went to open the coal house door, the bolt was stiff with frost, and he had to ask himself if he had not turned into a man consigned to doorways, for did he not spend the best part of his life standing outside of one or another, waiting for them to be opened. As soon as he forced this bolt, he sensed something within…’
Small Things Like These truly is an exceptional and compelling read. It may be small and compact but Claire Keegan’s words are concise and dynamic. This is the novel stripped back. There is no unnecessary padding, no over-descriptive paragraphs, just a remarkable tale told with an elegant hand and with succinct and beautiful prose. Highlighting terrible times in Irish history, Small Things Like These is a book that really does punch above its size.
Compassionate, powerful and nostalgic Small Things Like These is an exceptional read and one that I highly recommend.
[ Bio ]
Claire Keegan was brought up on a farm in Ireland. Her stories have won numerous awards and have been translated into more than twenty languages. Foster was named by The Times as one of the top fifty works of fiction to be published in the twenty-first century.
Keegan currently holds the Briena Staunton Fellowship at Pembroke College, Cambridge
Twitter – @CKeeganFiction
Website – https://ckfictionclinic.com