Irish author Claire Keegan tells exquisite, compact stories in lilting language. Usually she condenses the power of a whole novel into a novella, with authentic dialogue and an unequalled mastery of every word. Her latest work Small Things Like These (Faber and Faber 2021) can be consumed in an hour yet is one of those books that you will return to again and again, wondering just how she manages to convey such brilliant characterisation and compelling plot in so few words.
Set in 1985, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, coal and timber merchant Bill Furlong spends the busiest time of year making deliveries and contemplating his family and his origin story, his routine punctured by the complicit silence of his small community, which he encounters around a Magdalen laundry and mother and baby home operated by the church. In spare and evocative prose, Keegan hints at the darkness hiding in plain sight and addresses the hypocrisy and trauma of this recently examined aspect of contemporary Irish history.
Powerful, engaging, brutally honest, moving, precise, mesmerising and breathtaking, this novella will cause you to weep at humanity’s cruelty, and cheer at the unexpected and radical courage of one man trying to make a difference.