Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan
Claire Keegan has crafted an outstanding novella that is heartbreakingly authentic, compelling, and reassuring in how a regular person rejected and ultimately helped curb the authority of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Claire Keegan’s writing is exquisite (I have found a book fitting of those words), and Small Things Like These gently unfolds with a beautiful descriptive rhythm. In stark contrast to the beauty of language, it touches on the atrocious and sinful actions from within the religious orders in Ireland. Many of those charged with upholding exemplary conduct and shepherding their congregation towards a life in the image of God became the evil in our communities. The Magdalen Laundries became a venue for incarcerating single mothers that society spurned simply for becoming pregnant. They were places where women received appalling treatment, having their children taken away to be adopted, or worse.
Bill Furlong was the son of a sixteen-year-old housemaid (father unknown), working for the wealthy Mrs Wilson. The kindness and care shown by Mrs Wilson, and his own personal circumstances, were undoubtedly an influence on Bill as she treated him like family. Bill’s story is set in 1985, and he is a coal and timber merchant, hardworking, and married to Eileen with five daughters. While the economic climate is depressed, Bill manages to sustain work and pass on kindness and charity to others. After supplying the convent (and Magdalen Laundry) with coal, he observes the working women supporting the nuns are discouraged and weary. Bill’s wife warns him to stay out of their business rather than invite the wrath of the Catholic Church.
After a further visit to the convent, he discovers a young woman locked in the coal shed and takes her to the Mother Superior on the run-up to Christmas. What he witnessed and the breakdown of the human spirit leaves him feeling guilty and hypocritical attending mass later.
“Was it possible to carry on along through all the years, the decades, through an entire life, without once being brave enough to go against what was there and yet call yourself a Christian, and face yourself in the mirror?”
For Bill Furlong, to do the right thing against the worries of powerful retaliation has a poetic quality during the time of Christmas. “Always, Christmas brought out the best and the worst in people.” The true history behind the Magdalen Laundries and how recent they existed is shocking. Small Things Like These is a very personal story and an insight into how many felt in their repulsion of the Church and how many were unaware of these evil secrets and the power the Church had to conceal them seemed boundless.
I would highly recommend reading this book, and I want to thank my fantastic Buddy, Ceecee, for drawing my attention to this remarkable book. I also want to thank Faber & Faber and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC in return for an honest review.