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.
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.
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.
This small, exquisite book leaves a large impression ... Keegan knows how to weigh and pace her sentences, and her fine judgement delivers many subtle pleasures ... Keegan fully exploits the power of understatement. Most of the big events either take place offstage or happened in the past, and if strong emotion is unavoidable, she displaces it with a verisimilitude in keeping with her characters ... Keegan’s restraint in such moments has an amplifying effect ... The climax of Small Things Like These is deeply moving ... Masterpiece.