Claire Keegan’s tender tale of hope and quiet heroism is both a celebration of compassion and a stern rebuke of the sins committed in the name of religion.

It is 1985, in an Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, faces his busiest season. As he does the rounds, he feels the past rising up to meet him - and encounters the complicit silences of a small community controlled by the Church.

Small Things Like These was longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize, announced on July 26, 2022. It was one of the six shortlisted books, announced on September 6.

The Booker Prize 2022
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Claire Keegan

Claire Keegan

About the Author

Claire Keegan was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2022. She is a novelist and short story writer, whose work has won numerous awards and been translated into 30 languages.
More about Claire Keegan

Claire Keegan on Small Things Like These

‘It’s both a privilege and an honour to see this novel nominated for the Booker Prize, to know that the judges consider it worthy. I’ve no idea what winning would mean, don’t know that anyone could know what winning would mean unless or until it happened - and even then, its meaning might be difficult to articulate. More readers is the most obvious answer – readers who might not otherwise find your work finding your work.

‘I’m interested in how we cope, how we carry what’s locked up in our hearts. I wasn’t deliberately setting out to write about misogyny or Catholic Ireland or economic hardship or fatherhood or anything universal, but I did want to answer back to the question of why so many people said and did little or nothing knowing that girls and women were incarcerated and forced to labour in these institutions. It caused so much pain and heartbreak for so many. Surely this wasn’t necessary or natural?’

Read the full interview here.

Claire Keegan

What the Booker judges said about the book

‘Keegan is measured and merciless as she dissects the silent acquiescence of a 1980s Irish town in the Church’s cruel treatment of unmarried mothers - and the cost of one man’s moral courage.

‘It is the tale, simply told, of one ordinary middle-aged man - Bill Furlong - who in December 1985, in a small Irish town, slowly grasps the enormity of the local convent’s heartless treatment of unmarried mothers and their babies (one instance of what will soon be exposed as the scandal of the Magdalene laundries). We accompany Furlong, and we feel - and fear - for him as he realises what is happening, decides how he must in conscience act, and accepts what that action, in a small church-dominated town, will cost him, his wife and his children.

‘The book is not so much about the nature of evil as the circumstances that allow it. More than Furlong’s quiet heroism, it explores the silent, self-interested complicity of a whole community, which makes it possible for such cruelty to persist. It forces every reader to ask what they are doing about the injustices that we choose not to think about too closely. Astonishingly, Keegan achieves this without ever sounding angry or preachy.’

Bespoke bound edition of Booker Prize 2022 shortlisted title Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

What the critics said

Lamorna Ash, The Guardian

Small Things Like These, Keegan’s latest short novel, shares its properties with the very best of her stories. Plunge pool-like, the narrative implies significant depth below its close, bounded surface.’

Erik Hage, Harvard Review Online

‘At just over one hundred pages, Irish writer Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These is a deceptively slim volume. On the one hand, it has the scathing social and religious indictment of a longer novel; on the other, it is a quiet and morose character study, a novella that delves into one man’s psychology and moral fiber. This character study is really the bulk of the plot, which moves not through propulsion, but by a steady undertow of dread embodied by its protagonist, Bill Furlong.’

Caitlin Stout, Chicago Review of Books

Small Things Like These is a slim yet evocative book that honors the small things that make a difference while also showing that communities determine which traditions to celebrate or reform, to uphold or rewrite.’

Christian House, Financial Times

‘Keegan has condensed a colossal piece of humanist fiction into a tiny volume. Hugely affecting, the story of Bill Furlong will remain with readers long after they close the book: he represents everyone whose kindness outlasts their presence.’

Claire Fullerton, New York Journal of Books

Small Things Like These is a succinct, heart and soul story of a man coming to terms with a consciousness born of his personal narrative. In precise, unadorned language, it personalizes a once taboo subject recently come to the fore, and now considered a blight on Irish history. All praise to author, Claire Keegan, for masterfully adding to her arsenal of widely acclaimed, human interest stories. Small Things Like These is a fathoms-deep, poignant novel that will appeal to fiction readers enamored of the sub-genre categories small town and rural fiction; holiday fiction; and family life.’ 

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

A story of quiet bravery, set in an Irish community in denial of its central secret. Beautiful, clear, economic writing and an elegant structure dense with moral themes.

— The 2022 judges on Small Things Like These

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