Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan

Published By: Faber and Faber
Pages: 128
Released On: 03/11/2022

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.

*****

This is a book review of two halves. I did enjoy it, I really did. I find it amazing that she can create a full story in just over 100 pages. But I must admit I did have some problems with it.

I’ve said before that I do not gel with short stories. Maybe I just haven’t found the right one. This straddled the fence. But I will admit I felt like this was more of a “full” story in a few pages, rather than a short story.

For most of it, I was a little lost as to what the main crux of the plot was. It was very descriptive, full of narrative and emotion, but a tad loose on the story. There seemed to be two threads – that of Bill and that of the convent – but I didn’t see how they related. They felt like two separate stories that had been smushed together.

I do agree with other reviews that say it’s good writing and is interesting to read, but I don’t see the sheer excellence that some readers have found. I’m happy I read it but I can’t say I would go round raving over it’s genius, and it probably won’t become a re-read.

There’s an emotional hardship in it, people down on their luck, maybe in financial difficulty, political difficulty, religious difficulty, but it doesn’t stray too far into morbidity. Nor is it a happy book or a funny one or sad. It doesn’t really hold on to one static feeling,

I like the link to the real Magdalene laundries and convents in Ireland at the time, and it really interested me to the point that I did further research.

It plods along very slowly, but then in the last few pages it completely takes a different turn. It seems so out of character for Bill and the book itself, it just seemed to lose its way.

I haven’t read a book by Claire before so I’m not sure if this her normal writing style or not. But I feel in her aim to be restrained but still impart an important message, it just felt ambiguous and lost. It doesn’t tell us enough but equally doesn’t allow us to make our own decisions. Short of letting us make our own minds up, the book itself doesn’t really give us anything.

Overall, a pleasant enough read, it’s very quick, interesting, and I’m glad to have read it, but not one I believe deserves all the accolades sadly.

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