Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
Published by Faber & Faber, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Set in the run up to Christmas in 1980s Ireland, this understated yet powerful little novel looks at the ideas of compassion and secrets; those we cannot see and those we choose not to.
We follow Bill Furlong, a coal merchant working hard to provide throughout the harsh winter for his wife and five daughters. After inadvertently uncovering a distressing truth about the goings on within the local Magdalene Laundry, he must wrestle with the reality of complacency and wilful ignorance within the Catholic Church. His discovery also prompts a re-evaluation of events from his own childhood, emphasising the idea of cycles repeating themselves throughout time, unless someone is brave enough to defy the status quo.
Keegan’s prose is deceptively simple. With few words, she paints vivid pictures of a very specific time and place within Irish history. The dialogue also feels authentic and considered, with just as much importance lying in what remains unsaid. Indeed, she chooses to forgo any hint of sensationalism, the true horrors inferred without the need for gratuity.
Sad yet full of hope, Small Things Like These perfectly captures the feelings of charm, nostalgia, melancholy, and longing that so often go hand-in-hand during the festive period. It’s a tender ode to the resilience of the working classes, and the quiet yet vital heroism of those who choose not to turn a blind eye.