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March 2024 Book of the Month

Category: Library, Monthly Book Reviews

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

I could think of lots of reasons not to have this as my March Book of the Month.  Chief of these are that it’s a book written for adults which I wouldn’t normally choose, as it excludes some of our younger readers and, it’s a book set at Christmastime, so it seems unseasonable to be talking to you about it now.  I’ve read and enjoyed lots of books recently, including Babel by R F Kuang, but I just haven’t read one that I’ve loved more than Small Things Like These.   

It’s a small but mighty book, only 114 pages long, in many ways it’s more of a short story than a novel.  I read it 3 times, on consecutive nights.  Then I had a rest and reread it again before the book club meeting where we were due to discuss it.  There is so much depth to the story that it improved with every read.   

Not a word is wasted on the page.  Claire Keegan’s writing is simple but rich, a real joy to read (and reread).  Her story is set in Ireland in 1985.  Bill Furlong is our hero, a sympathetic, gentle and hardworking man who has risen from nothing to become a successful coal and timber merchant.  He feels fortunate, a proud father to daughters but something nags at him.  He wonders what life might be like had he chosen a different path. 

One day, when he’s delivering coal to the local Convent, he discovers a young girl, locked in the coal shed, starving and barely able to walk.  There have been lots of rumours in the town about what goes on at the laundry attached to the convent.  The women of the town turn a blind eye to what goes on there, choosing to keep quiet to protect their own families.  The Church is powerful and the people fear it, particularly the nuns, who run the local school.  Bill faces a moral dilemma.  Will he speak out about what he has found?  He knows how easily his family’s life could be ruined but he has a personal reason for wanting to confront what is happening.

I’d forgotten how much I love a short story.  The impact of capturing the moment when someone’s life changes forever stays with you for a long time.   This is a book I know I will return to again and again. Suitable for all but appealing to KS4, Sixth Form and Staff.

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