Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan – Book review

My goodness, Small Things Like These is a special read! I opened this novella (it clocks in at only 110 pages, but what a powerful set of pages they are) on a rainy, dark afternoon and read it in one go. I was totally immersed in its pages from the offset and sucked into the emotional tale.

Opening sentence: In October there were yellow trees.

A Christmas tale with heart and hope

In this week between Christmas and New Year, it’s the perfect time for a festive tale that has both the dark and light sides of any good story set around this time of year.

Small Things Like These takes place in 1985 and our lead character is William (Bill) Furlough, a coal and timber merchant. He lives with his wife Eileen and their five daughters in a small village in Ireland.

We take in life from his point of view and so much is said in the nuanced flow of William’s daily activities. His moments of ponder and reflection are ones we can all relate to and cut so deep. I really love Claire Keegan’s writing style, it is poetic yet precise and just so engaging. It truly makes this a unique, memorable read.

Sundays could feel very threadbare, and raw. Why could he not relax and enjoy them like other men who took a pint or two after Mass before falling asleep at the fire with the newspaper, having eaten a plate of dinner?

The conflict in the story comes in relation to the Magdalene Laundries scandal – a dark, shameful part of Ireland’s history. Unwed mothers or ‘promiscuous’ women were sent to homes run by nuns and essentially treated like prisoners. Shockingly, the last of these institutions only closed in 1996.

When Bill stumbles across something he shouldn’t while delivering coal, he is faced with adhering to society norms and looking away, or listening to his conscience and doing the right thing. As we all know though, it’s not always easy to do the right thing, even when we know we should.

Small Things Like These is a story about how we all have the power to change things, if we’re brave enough to stand up for what’s right. It blends historical facts with fiction for a story I’ll remember. A late contender for one of my 2022 books of the year – it did make the list actually – I highly recommend adding it to your reading list.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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