Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan *****


I haven’t forgotten about my quest to read all the Booker Prize-nominated books! I have just been busy reading other things.

At this point, the prize has been awarded, but I shall continue on, dear readers, because that’s the sort of person I am.

Also, because so far, these books have been rather good. Who would have thought it?

Not so long ago, I read “We Don’t Know Ourselves” by Fintan O’Toole, which is his personal history of modern Ireland. It was very good, though I’d only recommend it to people who either are very interested in modern Irish history or those who lived it. In the book, Fintan writes about the Irish people’s ability to hold two opposite “truths” in their minds and treat each as fact. For example, he writes about a certain priest who everyone knew was having affairs (with consenting women) and fathering children. But at the same time, everyone knew that priests were celibate so all that hanky-panky just wasn’t happening. Even though it was, and they knew it.

Small Things Like These” pushes that sort of factual twilight into a very personal and small tale of a guy in an Irish village in 1985 who sells coal and just wants to support his family. He’s not looking to make waves, though he also has moments of longing for something more. And then he’s face to face with a truth about the local convent that he knew before… but he could just gloss over it in his mind.

One of the things I like most about this slender volume is that the main character is a good person. But when he has this encounter, his first thought is basically, “I just want to go home.”

This book is very short and yet quite powerful. And puts into mundane reality the great evil that were the Magdalene Laundries.

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