One of our recommended books is Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE


Destined to be a modern classic from “an original and a canonical presence in Irish fiction” (Colm Tóibín), Small Things Like These is Claire Keegan’s landmark new novel, the tale of one man’s courage — and a remarkable portrait of love and family.

It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man, who is father to five girls, faces into his busiest season. Early one morning, while delivering an order to the local convent, Bill makes a discovery which forces him to confront both his past and the complicit silences of a town controlled by the church.

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Destined to be a modern classic from “an original and a canonical presence in Irish fiction” (Colm Tóibín), Small Things Like These is Claire Keegan’s landmark new novel, the tale of one man’s courage — and a remarkable portrait of love and family.

It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man, who is father to five girls, faces into his busiest season. Early one morning, while delivering an order to the local convent, Bill makes a discovery which forces him to confront both his past and the complicit silences of a town controlled by the church.

Already a bestseller in France and certain to be read worldwide for generations to come, Small Things Like These is a deeply affecting and inspiring story of hope, quiet heroism, and empathy from one of our most critically celebrated and iconic writers.

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  • Grove Atlantic
  • Hardcover
  • November 2021
  • 144 Pages
  • 9780802158741

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$22.00

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About Claire Keegan

Claire Keegan is the author of Small Things Like These

Claire Keegan was born on a farm in County Wexford, Ireland. The recipient of many awards, she studied at Loyola University in New Orleans and received an M.F.A. from the University of Wales. Her first published story, “The Ginger Rogers Sermon,” was included in Irish Short Stories 1997, edited by David Marcus. She is currently working on a novel in Ireland.

Praise

“I’m now reading it for the third time. This little book moved me so much. And I have been carrying it everywhere with me, underlying favorite passages (too many!). This book is a prayer, an elixir of courage, a school of life, a healing balm for our sorrows, a song to human kindness, and a gift of hope.” —Aggie Zivaljevic, Kepler’s Books (Menlo Park, CA)

Discussion Questions

1. Early in the novel, Furlong reflects on the movements of his family as they prepare for Christmas dinner. “Always it was the same … they carried mechanically on, without pause, to the next job at hand. What would life be like, he wondered, if they were given time to think and to reflect over things?” How do the events that follow echo this meditation from Furlong?

2. Furlong grew up poor and provides for his family what he lacked as a child. Still, they are not rich. Why do you think Claire Keegan chose this man for her protagonist? What special insight do you think Furlong has that encourages his decision to return to the coal shed?

3. Small Things Like These occurs in just a few short weeks. Why do you think Claire Keegan chose to make the narrative so compact? How does the short sprint toward Christmas add to the climax of the novel?

4. After first meeting Sarah, Furlong sits alone in his truck before going “like a hypocrite, to mass.” As her author note indicates, the Magdalene Laundries, where Sarah lives, were funded by both the Irish State and the Catholic Church. What role does religion play in this novel?

5. In many ways, Eileen balances Furlong. “You’re soft-hearted, is all. Giving away what change is in your pocket,” she says to him in bed, the night he returns from the Magdalene Laundries. Discuss her reaction to Furlong’s prolonged anxiety. Do you agree with her idea that they ought to just “soldier on?”

6. In her note on the text, Claire Keegan, acknowledges the closing, in 1996, of the last Magdalene Laundry. At the end of her note, she quotes from the Proclamation of the Irish Republic: “The Irish Republic … declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.” Why do you think she juxtaposed these two facts? What resonance does this have with us today?