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Booker Longlist: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Book 3 – reviewed by panelists Book Worm, Anita, Nicole, Tracy, Lisa Jen, and Susie

Claire Keegan is a novelist and short story writer, whose work has won numerous awards and been translated into more than 20 languages.

Synopsis from Booker Prize website:

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.

BookWorm’s Thoughts:  Going into this I didn’t realise how short the story was and yes those who know me can guess my reaction to this one…it’s a short story so did I enjoy it? No, not really. The problem I have with short stories/novellas including this one is that I don’t have time to form an emotional attachment to any of the characters.

This is a really important issue especially given how recently it is (1996) that the last Magdalena laundry was shut and I would have liked to see it explored in a full length novel. I would have also liked alternative viewpoints as Bill our sole protagonist is, sorry to say, too good to be true. Yes he is complicit by his silence but only for a matter of days unlike the rest of the town who appear to have known for years and yet have done nothing.

I would have like to know the full story of Bill’s mother, of his childhood and of at least one of those in the laundry but instead I got a sugar coated Christmas story. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with that in itself I can just see so much more potential in this book.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 11/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: I didn’t have any idea that these laundries existed. Knowing about the schools for indiginous peoples in North America, I’m wondering about the morality of those who ran the institutions in Ireland, the US and Canada. 

The author takes a short amount of space to point this out (almost too short)  and to show that the lessons preached have not been lost on everyone. There is hope, and I have to say, though I didn’t enjoy this, per se, I did appreciate it, and felt it very well written. 

This is very much deserving of its place on the longlist. 

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4.5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot: 3/4
Enjoyment: 2/2 
Total: 17.5/20

Jen’s Thoughts: Honestly, I wanted more. The book was too short for me and ended at a point where I wanted more storyline and resolution. Yet, at the same time, I appreciated the effect that was created by ending where it did. The book is beautifully written. I listened to it first as a audiobook (less than 2 hours) and then read the book (a mere 118 pages). Despite its short length, the author’s skill at character development is impressive. In a mere 100 pages, Keegan manages to center the book on a decision that is thoroughly connected with character development. The protagonist’s childhood history is intrinsically intertwined with how he reacts to information he learns over the course of the book. On a side note, I was not aware of the existence of the Magdalena laundries and I found the author’s note at the end to be interesting.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

Lisa’s Thoughts: This read more like a short story than a novel. It’s pretty tight and focused, which I like. There is an important moral or ethical question at its heart. When do you do what is right even at risk to yourself and your family? The author presents this dilemma in contrast to other “sins” — like missing first mass. This ethical dilemma is unfortunately all too relevant today as we read about physicians who cannot by law treat women in danger who are not quite yet at the point of needing life-saving intervention. This is a quick read and worth reading. I’m not sure, however, that it will make the shortlist.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development:3 /4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 15/20

Additional Ratings

Nicoles Ratings

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 4/4 (has the character of a person ever been communicated so quickly and effectively?)
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20022

Clocking in at about a 2-hour read, do you does this book catch your eye?


  • The Colony 18.8
  • Small Things like these: 15.5
  • Booth 13.7
One Comment Post a comment
  1. Remedial Stitcher #

    I read this around Christmas. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t have categorized it as a possible Booker candidate.


    August 9, 2022

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