Review: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Bleak, powerful and strangely beautiful Small Things Like These is a story of cruelty and, ultimately, hope. Set in 1985 in a small town in Ireland that is almost totally controlled by the local arm of the Catholic Church it tells the story of Bill Furlong, a man whose life could have taken a very different path when his mother found herself unmarried and pregnant. Thanks to the kindness of her employer, she was able to keep and raise her son--an unusual circumstance in their small town, where unmarried pregnant girls and women were cast out of their families and sent away. When Furlong (as he is known in the novel) now an adult with a wife, daughters and a respectable job comes across the harsh realities that fall upon pregnant teenagers in Ireland, with many sent away to work in homes for unmarried mothers where they are treated cruelly, and in particular, the ill-treatment of one girl who is roughly the same age as his daughters, he decides to do something about it. 

This was a bleak, yet beautiful read. Perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that the story is set not that long ago. By 1985 homes for unmarried mothers had long ceased to exist in many parts of the world. In Ireland, they would continue until 1996. What happened in these homes has been the subject of many investigations. Small Things Like These is a story, in part, of how they managed to get away with it, thanks to the complicity of the local people and an unwillingness to question the church. Furlong risks everything by doing what he knows is right--after all, he knows how different his life was thanks to the kindness of others. 

Sad, yet enjoyable, the novel lifts a lid on a shameful part of Ireland's history and weaves it into a story of how one person can make a difference.

Highly Recommended.


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