Concise, moving novel about abuse at Irish Catholic laundries asks eerily familiar questions

This striking debut novel comes from the Emerald Isle, but covers a subject with eerie parallels to Canadian history.

Little things like these explores an ordinary man’s discovery of abuse in a respected institution and his decision on how to respond to it.

Murdo MacLeod

Irish author Claire Keegan… TK


Murdo MacLeod

Irish author Claire Keegan… TK

Author Claire Keegan examines themes of guilt, complacency, abuse of power, and service to others.

The novel will introduce many readers to the shameful laundries of the Madeleine in Ireland. Managed by the Catholic Church, these laundries presented themselves as refuges for so-called fallen women.

In reality, the detainees were locked inside, given different names and hungry. Children of detainees were separated from their mothers and adopted without their consent.

Seems familiar?

<p>Little things like these</p>

Little things like these

The story begins in rural Ireland, 1985. The main character Bill Furlong opens the story, which is told in the third person from his point of view.

Bill immediately shows himself as a good man who works hard and loves his family.

He knows he is fortunate enough to own a stable business during a time of high unemployment and is humble enough to admit his good fortune without dominating it over others:? Times were tough but Furlong felt all the more determined to keep going, to keep his head down and stay on the good side of people, and to continue providing for his daughters, to see them continue and finish their education at St Margaret ?? s, the only good girls’ school in town.? ?

As Christmas approaches, Bill delivers a load of charcoal to the convent which manages the Sainte-Marguerite school. He accidentally enters a scene that alarms him and makes him question what little he knows about the convent.

Bill might ignore what he’s learned, but isn’t he sure he can live with the decision. what was there and yet call you a christian, and face you in the mirror ??? he says to him.

But to speak of what he saw is to risk his safety and that of his family.

As he wonders what to do, Bill learns how many others are willing to be silent and how difficult it is to blame a Higher Power.

Keegan has perfected his writing on short stories, and those roots are found in this beautifully crafted novel. She chooses every word deliberately, wasting no time in elaborate descriptions or dialogue.

His skill at telling a vibrant story in as few words as possible may remind readers of fellow Irish novelist Colm Tóibín, best known for his 2010 novel. Brooklyn (adapted in film in 2015.)

Keegan keeps the story outside of the convent itself. Readers see the abuse through Bill’s eyes ?? not much, but enough to know that something was wrong.

Other people reveal their characters when they react to Bill’s argument at the convent.

A restaurant owner warns Bill not to risk his business by exposing the convent, using the phrase “keep the bad dog with you and the good dog won’t bite.”

Bill’s wife chooses to blame the inmates, noting that “all their people did was leave them wild and then when they got in trouble they turned their backs.

Little things like these isn’t your typical Christmas book, but it gets to the heart of the Christmas message: caring for others and bringing light to dark times.

Kathryne Cardwell is a writer from Winnipeg.

If you enjoy coverage of the Manitoba arts scene, help us do more.
Your contribution of $ 10, $ 25 or more will allow Free Press to deepen our reporting on theater, dance, music and galleries while ensuring that the widest possible audience can access our artistic journalism.

Click here to learn more about the project.

Comments are closed.