My sixth read of the 2022 Booker Prize longlist was Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These (Grove Press 2021). This slim novella is the shortest entry in Booker history (I think), and it’s easily read in one sitting. Set at Christmas in 1985 Ireland, it’s best read during the winter months, ideally with snow on the ground. Instead, it’s summer in North Carolina and the heat and humidity did impact how the words fell.
Keegan’s writing is delicate and purposeful, and the result is gorgeous. But (you knew there would be a but), the ending is just too easy. With a history of young girls who were held against their will, forced to work and give up their babies, I suppose Keegan wanted to save at least one.
The novel is a slice of life centered around a good guy. Bill Furlough is an honest, hard-working man. He’s a good husband and father. And he was a good son. His mother was like the women who wound up at the convent, but her employer let her stay on and they all helped raise Bill. He’s the better man for all his life experiences. And those experiences give him pause when he first meets Sarah, barefoot and terrified in the coal-house.
Dedicated to “the women and children who suffered time in Ireland’s mother and baby homes and Magdalen laundries,” the novel seems a quiet, unassuming apology for the “small things” so many were never able to experience.
It’s worth a read.
Booker count: 6 of 13