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Small Things Like These
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Small Things Like These

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1,7801199,459 (4.22)328
"It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man 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 story of hope, quiet heroism, and empathy from one of our most critically lauded and iconic writers"--… (more)
Member:elhtfiction
Title:Small Things Like These
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Info:Faber and Faber, Edition: UK Signed 1st Edition
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Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Recently added byMariekes, lelandleslie, Valsh, suerich, private library, Siouxie, ben_r47, AttilaFodi, JoeB1934
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Showing 1-5 of 110 (next | show all)
This is a near perfect little book, and came at the right time after I’d just read an overlong and baggy novel; I appreciate as well that this story shows its characters dealing with a matter of social injustice with the conflicted, self-focused and uncertain attitudes that are far more common in life than the clearheaded fiery zeal present in that other novel, which while it can be very admirable, is hardly so common.

The social injustice here is the brutal treatment of young unwed pregnant girls and their infants in Ireland at the hands of the institutions of the Catholic Church in the 20th century. Most people looked the other way, as is humanity’s general tendency, and this novel reflects that in its characters outside of the conflicted protagonist, Bill Furlong, a businessman in the heating supplies business who stumbles across a young woman locked into the coal cellar of the local convent and “training school”, apparently long-term.

Bill is already in a bit of an existential headspace, which opens one up to all sorts of changes and actions and new modes of thinking:

What was it all for? Furlong wondered. The work and the constant worry. Getting up in the dark and going to the yard, making the deliveries, one after another, the whole day long, then coming home in the dark and trying to wash the black off himself and sitting into a dinner at the table and falling asleep before waking in the dark to meet a version of the same thing, yet again. Might things never change or develop into something else, or new?


When a man around 40 years of age is here, we’re all familiar with the sort of results this “mid-life crisis” can induce, usually ridiculous-seeming. Bill however is brought to face a situation that has nothing funny at all about it. The convent’s Mother Superior shrewdly pretends to place a normal seeming gloss on the situation, which Bill quietly refutes, but ultimately leaves in some indeterminate level of acceptance.

He’d been here before, after all. He’d seen the conditions in previous delivery visits. He’d left it alone. Though not without some foreshadowing: asking directions after suffering a bit of brain fog and getting lost following a disquieting prior visit to the place, a man answered his query of where a certain road was headed with the reply, “This road will take you wherever you want to go, son.”

So where does Bill want this road to take him? His wife Eileen has already presented the self-focused point of view most people in fact have: “‘Where does thinking get us?’ she said. ‘All thinking does is bring you down.’ She was touching the little pearly buttons on her nightdress, agitated. ‘If you want to get on in life, there’s things you have to ignore, so you can keep on.’”

The woman who runs the local cafe puts things even more starkly self-preservationist when they have a bit of a talk:

‘Take no offence, Bill,’ she said, touching his sleeve. ‘Tis no business of mine, as I’ve said, but surely you must know these nuns have a finger in every pie.’
He stood back then and faced her. ‘Surely they’ve only as much power as we give them, Mrs Kehoe?’
‘I wouldn’t be too sure.’ She paused then and looked at him the way hugely practical women sometimes looked at men, as though they weren’t men at all but foolish boys. More than once, maybe more than several times, Eileen had done the same.


Bill recognizes the truth in these statements. He fights with his conscience, with the metaphorical blackness as well as the physical coal-dark blackness:

Best as he could he scrubbed his nails, trying to get the black out from under them. With a fresh type of reluctance he then changed into his Sunday clothes and walked with Eileen and the girls to the chapel, feeling the pavement steep and very slippery in places… A part of him wished it was a Monday morning, that he could just put his head down and drive on out the roads and lose himself in the mechanics of the ordinary, working week… Why could he not relax and enjoy them like other men who took a pint or two after Mass before falling asleep at the fire with the newspaper, having eaten a plate of dinner?


Bill will prove to be unlike other men, of course. He’ll recognize as doing so that consequences will follow for him and his family. Certainly I think one can understand both points of view on show here in the face of injustice: the ultimately courageous and sacrificing (not just self-sacrifice, but inevitably affecting your family as well) and the looking away (and who with kids to think of could easily disparage this approach?).

But who can not cheer for a character whose ultimate conclusion to both his existential and his immediately concrete dilemma is this:

As they carried on along and met more people Furlong did and did not know, he found himself asking was there any point in being alive without helping one another? 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?
( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
Every positive review of this book I believe. A memorable and affecting read. ( )
  lshinaver | Feb 20, 2024 |
Another amazing book by Keegan. The writing is so precise I felt a real part of the story. And the varieties of people depicted also added to the realism. This is a very short book composed of many important threads. Many of the characters were not too likable for many reasons, but I still really cared about most of them. And I would kind of like a sequel to this book, although I prefer to grapple with so many possible future occurrences. This book is so relevant to the many problems so many of us are facing, unfortunately. ( )
  suesbooks | Feb 19, 2024 |
Incredibly moving. ( )
  Tosta | Feb 5, 2024 |
Keegan is so gifted at capturing an emotionally fraught story with her quiet condense prose. It’s 1985 and Bill Furlong is a coal man in Ireland preparing to celebrate Christmas with his wife and daughters. His path crosses with the nuns at the Magdalene Laundry and his conscience is in turmoil. It was a brief but beautiful story. If you’re curious to learn more about the laundries, I’d recommend the movie The Magdalene Sisters which I watched years ago. ( )
  bookworm12 | Jan 4, 2024 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Claire Keeganprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kelly, AidanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
'The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and 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.'

Excerpt from 'The Proclamation of the Irish Republic', 1916
Dedication
This story is dedicated to the women and children who suffered time in Ireland's mother and baby homes and Magdalen laundries.

And for Mary McCay, teacher.
First words
In October there were yellow trees.
Quotations
As they carried on along and met more people Furlong did and did not know, he found himself asking was there any point in being alive without helping one another? Was it possible to carry on along through all the years, the decades, through an entire life, without once being brave enough to go up against what was there and yet call yourself a Christian, and face yourself in the mirror?
Always it was the same, Furlong thought; always they carried mechanically on without pauses, to the next job at hand.What would life be like, he wondered, if they were given time to think and reflect on things? (18%)
What most tormented him was not so much how she'd been left in the coal shed or the stance of the Mother Superior; the worst was how the girl had been handled while he was present and how he'd allowed that and had not asked about her baby -- the one thing she had asked him to do -- and how he had taken the money and left her there at the table with nothing before her and the breast milk leaking under the little cardigan and staining her blouse, and how he'd gone on, like a hypocrite, to Mass. (77%)
Why were the things that were closest so often the hardest to see? (87%)
Already he could feel a world of trouble waiting for him behind the next door, but the worst that could have happened was also already behind him; the thing not done, which could have been -- which he would have had to live with for the rest of his life. (95%)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man 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 story of hope, quiet heroism, and empathy from one of our most critically lauded and iconic writers"--

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Book description
It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man 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.
Haiku summary
Il ose la sauver,
la fille cloîtrée au couvent,
le vendeur de bois
(Tiercelin)

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