Small Things Like These

By Claire Keegan,

Book cover of Small Things Like These

Book description

Shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize

"A hypnotic and electrifying Irish tale that transcends country, transcends time." —Lily King, New York Times bestselling author of Writers & Lovers

Small Things Like These is award-winning author Claire Keegan's landmark new novel, a tale of one man's courage and a remarkable portrait…

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Why read it?

19 authors picked Small Things Like These as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I love the way this book looks.

I love holding it in my hand.

I love how the words fall perfectly on the pages.

When my good friend raved about a book by a new-to-me Irish writer, I hurried to buy it. And now I’m Keegan’s biggest fan. She writes short books that say so much. There’s history, complicated families, and unexpected turns. She has a talent for putting sentences together that make me want to read them over and over.

Another of her books, Foster, was made into a perfect movie, The Quiet Girl. Rarely do I think…

Of all the Claire Keegan books I’ve read, this one haunted me the most.

I devoured it on a long plane ride and would have read it again if I didn’t need to disembark. It won awards for Keegan who set her yarn in a small Irish village in the 1980s but its mannerisms and mood harken back to the 1950s or 1940s or even earlier. The parallel, intertwining storylines show the optimism of a working-class family set against a web of dark, religious complexity.

Delivered with moral responsibility, Keegan’s words are beautifully stark and never preachy. Due to its…

This is not much more than a novella, but very compelling. The story is set in Ireland in the early 80s during bad economic times, when the Magdalene convents were still going. The treatment of the young girls was horrific.

Furlong, the owner of a coal company, rescues one of the girls and the story ends. On first reading, it felt like the beginning of a novel, not the end of one, but in fact, you knew what the consequences were going to be, you knew that he could lose everything by what he did. It was complete as is.…

This is a short but incredibly powerful novel. Its subject is the power and iron-fisted control the Catholic church has had for years over the Irish people, even in the face of corruption and abuse in church-run orphanages and homes for unwed mothers.

The book is also about the morality of a small town in which the local people fear speaking out against the abuses they know are being committed at the convent home for unwed mothers because of the possible repercussions for their own lives. But one man with a powerful conscience and daughters of his own risks his…

I believe in personal change and redemption. I love stories where ordinary people, faced with a moral dilemma, listen to the better angels of their nature. The fine novelist James Salter writes that “at a certain point, one stands on the isthmus and sees clearly the Atlantic and the Pacific of life. There is the destiny of going one way or the other, and you must choose.”

In Keegan’s novella, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man in a small Irish town in 1985, stands on that isthmus and must make a choice that will have a financial…

Claire Keegan’s stories are miniature worlds – filled with exquisite detail, intimate and revealing.

I love the way she creates a continuous cinematic sequence – almost a single breath  following the daily life of a working man in a small Irish town in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Bill Furlong’s observations, encounters, recollections, and ultimate decisions build layers of color and depth to his character and world, creating the kind of complexity that weaves through all our lives and shapes, informing the way we choose to act and interact.

With a powerful subtext about the often unspoken control…

This is an elegant, beautiful, and sad story of one man’s slowly growing awareness of the horrors of the Magdalen laundry in his town that has been incarcerating and exploiting young women and covering up the abuses.

As the protagonist comes to realize what is happening, he shifts from an outside observer living in the town to one who must act ethically, no matter what the cost. The author never foregrounds this shift in the character but unfolds it in such a way that it speaks to a wider obligation to know and to act.

It is a short book…

The setting is Ireland in the late 1970s. Our honest protagonist is a coal merchant trying to make a living for his family. He is faced with a personal moral dilemma when he learns the shocking rumors of the Magdalen Laundry are true.

Keegan portrays Ireland with Irish sayings, dialect, and foods like soda bread, Ribena, and Marmite. I loved her imagery:  “she keeled over on the cobblestones” and a river “as dark as stout.”  This beautiful book is packed with psychological subtleties, and her writing just flows.

I bought this whilst idling in a second-hand bookshop. After finishing it, I read everything I could find by Claire Keegan.

Her storytelling has a timeless quality; it could be set recently or 100 years ago, it’s beautifully ambiguous. Her descriptive style is lucid and spare; simple enough to suggest that nothing is happening but underneath a tension is building until the stakes are very high indeed. It’s masterful. The necessity of this book being written, and written so well, honours the victims of the history being addressed.

The protagonist, Bill Furlong, is a compelling example of the age-old dilemma:…

Keegan tells the story in a way that reminded me of my first discoveries in fiction, the captivating worlds created by Charles Dickens or Mark Twain.

Back then I was young enough to be amazed that words on a page could become more real, more magnetic, than anything else; unlike those books I fell in love with as a teenager, Small Things Like These has a quiet, nearly invisible magic. The world of a small Irish town becomes the world.

The friend who recommended the book is a Jamaican sociologist—like me, from a world unlike this book, with the added…

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