“Why were the things that were closest so often the hardest to see?”
It’s been a long time since anybody bought me a novel as a present wanting me to read it because it has made such an impression on them. So thanks to my dear friend Louise as this book was one of her favourite reads of last year as well as enjoying wider critical acclaim; a place on the 2022 Booker Shortlist and the winner of the Orwell Prize given for political fiction.
First of all this is a short novel of 110 well-spaced pages with a generously sized font and I must confess I do struggle with the short novel as a form, perhaps even more than I do with short stories. I approach them with hovering anxiety- that I might not get them, that the short form adopted will require too much reading between the lines extracting the story from what is not there as much as what is there.
I don’t know why I feel like this, if need be, I’m very well versed enough as a reader to extrapolate meaning so I don’t know why this would be a dealbreaker but faced with a couple of tempting novels – one short, one longer I’d generally pick the longer. I do hope it’s not a latent miserliness in me, subconsciously thinking about value for money as there is certainly much value within this short work.
It is a Christmas story, which makes it both an excellent gift and something to return to each December. It’s a read in a day title and should be sought out by those who like a festive dose of Ebenezer Scrooge each year (or annually watch “It’s A Wonderful Life”). With great economy and narrative skills the author weaves a haunting, simple story with much hidden power behind it. There’s a lot of unsentimental kindness which feels a salve to the soul.
In 1985 in a small Irish town the Furlong family are preparing for Christmas. Bill, the father, is a coal and timber merchant kept busy by the cold weather. The true life Magdalen Laundries, a Church-run network of sweatshops for girls fallen on hard times touches Bill’s life but the circumstances will need to be discovered by the reader of these 110 pages as I’m not revealing any more plot.
Claire Keegan certainly leaves the reader wanting more and I will certainly seek out other works by her.
Small Things Like These was published in 2021. The paperback edition is now available.