Novel of the week: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
This is a ‘tale of quiet but monumental devastation’, said The Daily Telegraph
The accumulated horror of Ireland’s Magdalene laundries – in which an estimated 30,000 girls were incarcerated, some as late as the mid-1990s – is “hard to comprehend”, said Lucy Scholes in The Daily Telegraph. But in this astonishing novella, Claire Keegan “distils the years of suffering and torture” into a “tale of quiet but monumental devastation”.
It begins near Christmas 1985, in the small town of New Ross; coal merchant Bill Furlong is making a delivery to the local convent when he discovers a “barely conscious, barefooted girl”. She is “lying on the freezing floor” in the coal house – and begs him to “ask them about my baby”.
The tale that follows is one of acute conscience-wrestling, said Claire Lowdon in The Sunday Times: Bill can’t ignore his “misgivings about the convent”, but knows that acting upon them will probably harm his family. The “act of quiet heroism” with which the novella ends tips it over into sentimentality. Still, there is “plenty to admire in this snow globe of a story that fits a whole, bustling, striving, yearning world into 114 finely wrought pages”.
Faber & Faber 114pp £10; The Week Bookshop £7.99
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