At 118 pages, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, is a quick but powerful read. The book jacket and the beginning of the book lull the reader into the expectation that this will be a comforting Christmas story. The fact that it’s set in the eighties – with all the attendant nostalgic, pre-internet, village shops and village life – reinforces that feeling. However, those expectations are upended when Bill Furlong, during his coal deliveries, encounters girls who live at the local convent. These encounters are so unsettling that they cause him to doubt his previously unquestioned faith in the Church.
The second part of the book deals with Bill’s crisis of conscience. He struggles with his faith and with identifying the right course of action. He feels disconnected from his family and struggles with how his responsibilities to his wife and his family affect doing what he feels is right.
This is a brief but immersive look into a period of Irish life that had resonance for decades afterwards. Seen through Bill’s innocent eyes, one can begin to understand how hard it was for entrenched ideas to shift.