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SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE by Claire Keegan Kirkus Star


by Claire Keegan

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-8021-5874-1
Publisher: Grove

An Irishman uncovers abuse at a Magdalen laundry in this compact and gripping novel.

As Christmas approaches in the winter of 1985, Bill Furlong finds himself increasingly troubled by a sense of dissatisfaction. A coal and timber merchant living in New Ross, Ireland, he should be happy with his life: He is happily married and the father of five bright daughters, and he runs a successful business. But the scars of his childhood linger: His mother gave birth to him while still a teenager, and he never knew his father. Now, as he approaches middle age, Furlong wonders, “What was it all for?…Might things never change or develop into something else, or new?” But a series of troubling encounters at the local convent, which also functions as a “training school for girls” and laundry business, disrupts Furlong’s sedate life. Readers familiar with the history of Ireland’s Magdalen laundries, institutions in which women were incarcerated and often died, will immediately recognize the circumstances of the desperate women trapped in New Ross’ convent, but Furlong does not immediately understand what he has witnessed. Keegan, a prizewinning Irish short story writer, says a great deal in very few words to extraordinary effect in this short novel. Despite the brevity of the text, Furlong’s emotional state is fully rendered and deeply affecting. Keegan also carefully crafts a web of complicity around the convent’s activities that is believably mundane and all the more chilling for it. The Magdalen laundries, this novel implicitly argues, survived not only due to the cruelty of the people who ran them, but also because of the fear and selfishness of those who were willing to look aside because complicity was easier than resistance.

A stunning feat of storytelling and moral clarity.