Powerful book! This is a novella which managed to make the Booker Prize Long List for last year. It’s dedicated “…to the women and children who suffered time in Ireland’s mother and baby homes and Magdalen laundries.” (That kind of sets a stage of sorts.)
Small Things Like These
By Claire Keegan
2021 / 70 pages
Read by Aiden Kelly 1h 57m
Rating: 10 /
Read once and listened 2x
The setting is the small town of New Ross, Ireland in 1985, where it’s a few weeks shy of Christmas. The story is simply that of Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant of “almost forty,” who remembers growing up in that same town the only child of an unwed mother. They lived with a retired school teacher who hired his mother out of sympathy and her need of a housekeeper to live in. Bill was a bright child and went to school with kids tho taunted him to a certain extent. His mother died when he was 12 leaving him with nobody but the they were staying with and she died not too long after that. He gets a job selling coal and timber, marries and has his own family. He climbs up the local ladder of success a bit. He’s not particularly happy but it’s better than it ever was before. He’s a good man but he wonders about his father who simply went missing and his mother never told him anything before she died.
That doesn’t sound like much of a story, but the telling is careful, deliberate and simple. It touched my heart.
There’s a little historical note, “A Note on the Text” in the Kindle version which has some enlightening details about the history but there’s more about the Catholic Church’s Magdalen laundries on the internet. James Joyce uses them in one of the stories in The Dubliners.
I enjoy short stories and novellas and it looks like I’ve read 2 this month and I have a set of 5 in one volume left to go. I might not make it through all that. I don’t usually read novellas because it seems like a whole novel gives me as a reader more room to breathe. A novel can space out the action and developments. A novella or really good short story is condensed and they can be very rich, strong, powerful.