Friday, June 21, 2024

Claire Keegan


Because I'd recently read Kairos, winner of this year's International Booker Prize, the Internet suggested that I read the work another acclaimed contemporary European author, Claire Keegan. And so I obliged: this time having picked up Small Things Like These

Let me start by saying that this novel is more of a novella, and that it's been very well received. In many ways, this praise is deserved: I agree that the book is spare, but exacting; it's beautiful without being precious. Every word is measured, and the result, if this is the sort of literary style you enjoy, is a novella that is almost perfectly constructed. Everything that needs to be said is included, and what's not made explicit lurks just below the surface. 

But then, Small Things Like These felt to me like an unfinished work: just at the moment of conflict, the novel ends, leaving us to wonder what comes next. And to a certain extent, this can be envisaged. It's just that it would be have been satisfying if the plot had continued, and if the characters had been compelled to confront this conflict. As I say, they are not, and the result is a convincing ascent toward tension -- but one which ends without resolution. (To argue that the remainder can be left unspoken is not fully convincing to me.)

I won't be negative, though, because Keegan does pack a serious punch: this is a novella which functions on a number of levels: political, religious, cultural. There's identity and gender there, too. Ultimately, this is a book about Ireland: its history, its unspoken trauma. It is a book which can be read in a single sitting -- which is a relief of sorts because there is a lot here to unpack and process.

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