Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan: a timely and powerful book

A fresh and sensitive perspective on an awful period in Ireland’s collective history

Claire Keegan: the Wexford author’s unsentimental, unshowy style seems a perfect fit for a story that pits one man against the power of the Catholic Church

Claire Keegan: the Wexford author’s unsentimental, unshowy style seems a perfect fit for a story that pits one man against the power of the Catholic Church

“Something small and hard gathered in his throat then which he tried but felt unable to say or swallow.” Bill Furlong, the protagonist of Claire Keegan’s highly anticipated new novel, is the kind of man who lies awake at night reflecting on the small things. The year is 1985, the country gripped by recession. Furlong, a coal and timber merchant in New Ross, Wexford, has a wife and five daughters to support. Like the rest of the town, he has plenty of worries, but over the course of this short, masterful novel it is his concern for the welfare of strangers that sets him apart.

Furlong is a hero in the classical sense, flawed and afraid, but ultimately noble. He goes quietly about his business, in a way that will be familiar to fans of Keegan. The Wexford author’s unsentimental, unshowy style seems a perfect fit for a story that pits one man against the power of the Catholic Church. It’s a tale we think we know well. Magdalene laundries, the incarceration of women, babies stolen, or worse, the rights of so many thousands denied over decades. Small Things Like These brings a fresh and sensitive perspective to an awful period in our collective history. Detailed, insightful and written with striking economy of language, it gets the reader remarkably close to the experience of the character, recalling Faulkner’s line about the best fiction being truer than fact.

The Irish Times
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