By Eoin Ryan
Claire Keegan’s new novel, Small Things Like These, expresses the raw reality of how Irish people lived with and came to accept the Magdalene Laundries, one of the biggest stains on Irish history. Similar to Foster, is a short read based on late 20th Century rural Ireland with the main plot focused on the Magdalene Laundries.
For what Claire Keegan lacks in book length and quantity, she greatly makes up for by the quality in each page of her stories. The story is never about singular characters but is instead about how they interact with one another
As someone who was not even born during that time, knowing how Magdalene Laundries were allowed to imprison women gives great context to aspects of recent Irish history. The ‘not our business’ attitude still prevalent today in rural Ireland is on full display throughout the story, revealing how people simply accepted this without question. It is clear some do not like that they are a part of Irish life, but feel they have to keep quiet and accept that fact or risk losing their comfortable life.
Bill Furlong, the main protagonist of this story, is an outlet for those wanting to express how the regular person at the time. Worries about the recession, spending most of his life working a job he does not care for, concerns about the life he chose and wondering how it could have been different. All are regular worries both in the present and past, expressed subtly through small talk and Furlong’s worries towards his family. It is the constant worries of a father seen in many fathers before and after his time.
Even how Irish people speak to each other is shown naturally, from how we flow our sentences together to small talk conversations which can be heard again just by walking through any small town in Ireland today.
The main personal gripe against the story, which is the same for Foster, is how it can easily become a longer story that can further flesh out the themes and aspects of rural Ireland Keegan is representing throughout the pages. The ending, despite being a major change that should wrap up the story, leaves readers with questions that will never get answered about how the people’s lives will progress afterwards. It is almost as if that was only part one to a three part story which will never finish.
Despite the critiques Small Things Like These is sure to be treated as an Irish Classic later down the line and a perfect example of how to tell a story solely through character interactions. This can easily be read through in a single sitting so this is an excellent choice for those who feel longer stories are a daunting task to overcome.