Small things like these

Claire Keegan

Book - 2021

"It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man faces into 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." --

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FICTION/Keegan, Claire
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Historical fiction
Christmas fiction
New York, NY : Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic 2021.
Main Author
Claire Keegan (author)
First Grove Atlantic hardcover edition
Item Description
First published in the United Kingdom in 2021 by Faber & Faber Limited
Physical Description
118 pages ; 20 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Christmastime is the busy season for coal merchant Bill Furlong, and this devout Irish Catholic father of five daughters knows that he is more fortunate than most in his small Irish town. Bill's success, however, was far from assured. Born to an unwed domestic-worker mother, his modest upbringing was the result of her employer's kindness. Irish writer Keegan's languid and crystalline prose is surprisingly powerful, poetically describing a Thatcher-era Dickensian village of financially struggling citizens preparing for the holiday while hinting at grim secrets just below the surface. The unspoken darkness comes to light when Bill discovers a young woman, cold and filthy, locked in a coal shed behind the convent. Keegan deftly reveals the pernicious complicity behind Ireland's Magdalene Laundries and their part in Ireland's tragic history of the abuse of young women by the church. Keegan's psychologically astute characterizations subtly convey the dual pressures of culpability and fear felt by the faithful. Bill's upbringing amplifies his conflicted nature and requires him to choose between acquiescence and conscience. A trenchant and plangent work asking at what cost does one remain silent.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Irish story writer Keegan's gorgeously textured second novella (after Foster) centers on a family man who wants to do the right thing. It's almost Christmas in a small town south of Dublin, Ireland, in 1985. Bighearted coal dealer Bill Furlong makes deliveries at all hours, buys dinner for his men, plays Santa Claus for the local children, and cares for his five daughters along with his wife, Eileen. Meanwhile, rumors circulate about the "training school" at a nearby convent, suggesting it's a front for free labor by young unwed mothers to support a laundry service, but no one wants to rock the boat. When Bill is there on a delivery, a teenage girl begs him to take her with him, and he politely makes excuses. He also notices broken glass topping the walls. Eileen tells him to "stay on the right side of people," but he feels he should do something--not just because he imagines his own daughters imprisoned there, but because he was born to a 16-year-old unwed mother who could have suffered a similar fate. Keegan beautifully conveys Bill's interior life as he returns to the house where he was raised ("Wasn't it sweet to be where you were and let it remind you of the past... despite the upset"). It all leads to a bittersweet culmination, a sort of anti--Christmas Carol, but to Bill it's simply sweet. Readers will be touched. (Nov.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

The latest from multi-award-winning Irish novelist Keegan (Antarctica) indicts the social culture that enabled Ireland's Magdalene Laundries and brilliantly articulates a decent person's struggle of conscience. In the weeks before Christmas in 1985, Bill Furlong, a New Ross coal and lumber merchant, fills nonstop fuel orders and observes holiday traditions with his wife and five daughters. During a delivery to a local convent, Bill discovers a disheveled girl, barefoot and in rags, locked in a coal shed. Bill has heard stories about the convent, how it shelters unseen girls who don't attend the same school as his daughters. As the son of a single mother and an unknown father, Bill is used to stories and their power to undermine reputations earned through hard work and good deeds or to enforce silences. Despite this knowledge, or perhaps because of it, Bill makes a courageous choice on Christmas Eve that will reveal secrets kept by the people of New Ross. VERDICT Keegan's beautiful prose is quiet and precise, jewel-like in its clarity. Highly recommended.--John G. Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

An Irishman uncovers abuse at a Magdalen laundry in this compact and gripping novel. As Christmas approaches in the winter of 1985, Bill Furlong finds himself increasingly troubled by a sense of dissatisfaction. A coal and timber merchant living in New Ross, Ireland, he should be happy with his life: He is happily married and the father of five bright daughters, and he runs a successful business. But the scars of his childhood linger: His mother gave birth to him while still a teenager, and he never knew his father. Now, as he approaches middle age, Furlong wonders, "What was it all for?…Might things never change or develop into something else, or new?" But a series of troubling encounters at the local convent, which also functions as a "training school for girls" and laundry business, disrupts Furlong's sedate life. Readers familiar with the history of Ireland's Magdalen laundries, institutions in which women were incarcerated and often died, will immediately recognize the circumstances of the desperate women trapped in New Ross' convent, but Furlong does not immediately understand what he has witnessed. Keegan, a prizewinning Irish short story writer, says a great deal in very few words to extraordinary effect in this short novel. Despite the brevity of the text, Furlong's emotional state is fully rendered and deeply affecting. Keegan also carefully crafts a web of complicity around the convent's activities that is believably mundane and all the more chilling for it. The Magdalen laundries, this novel implicitly argues, survived not only due to the cruelty of the people who ran them, but also because of the fear and selfishness of those who were willing to look aside because complicity was easier than resistance. A stunning feat of storytelling and moral clarity. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.