It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man, faces his busiest season. Early one morning, while delivering an order to the local convent, Bill makes a discovery which forces him to confront both his past and the complicit silences of a town controlled by the church.
At the opening of Small Things Like These, one immediately senses that Keegan is breathing something vital into the season’s most cherished tales, until, as gently as snow falling, her little book accrues the unmistakable aura of a classic ... Keegan’s Everyman hero is Bill Furlong, whose past and present she sketches with such crisp efficiency that the brush marks of her artistry are almost invisible ... From the elements of this simple existence in an inconsequential town, Keegan has carved out a profoundly moving and universal story. There’s nothing preachy here, just the strange joy and anxiety of firmly resisting cruelty ... Grand gestures, extravagant generosity, moments of surprising forgiveness all have their rightful place in our holiday legends. But Small Things Like These reminds us that the real miracle in any season is courage ... Get two copies: one to keep, one to give.
Some may be disappointed to discover that Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan’s first novel in more than a decade, is a mere 114 pages long. However, Keegan has never been a writer to waste a word ... An evocative tale of Ireland ... Keegan is clever to funnel the novel’s perspective through Furlong ... The novel isn’t just an eloquent attack on these laundries, however. It is also a touching Christmas tale, genuinely reminiscent of the festive stories of O Henry and Charles Dickens; a novel that has been seeped in sherry and served by the fireside ... As soon as you pick the novel up, it’s all over. The monumental power of Claire Keegan is that she can create these cuckoo-clock narratives where every single word seems to be a necessary contribution to the overall mechanism of the novel. She is all killer, no filler ... Small Things Like These is another minor miracle from Keegan, a book that is nostalgic, touching, brutal and angry. All of which is to say, it is utterly unmissable.
Keegan may be telling a fictional story, but the complicit silence of an ordinary individual faced with a corrupt institution is an authentic scenario, particularly for those living in Ireland during the operation of Magdalene laundries ... Keegan’s decision to portray the horrors of a Magdalene laundry through the exterior lens of an unassuming male character, rather than fictionalizing first-hand experiences, is a clever device which avoids shock value and instead questions how the morality of the everyman is shaped by culture ... a slim yet evocative book that honors the small things that make a difference while also showing that communities determine which traditions to celebrate or reform, to uphold or rewrite.