Reading Ireland Month Review: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

My Interest

I learned of this book from this post by Heavenali. A two hour audio book is something I’m almost always up for. Short story? Short novella? I’m not sure. That it is by an Irish author and available during Reading Ireland Month is just a bonus. I also watched a horrifying documentary about the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland so the story caught my interest. I also recalled a book in the e’80s by columnist Art Buchwald and his wife Anne that told, among other things, of adopting their son from Ireland–the connection was chilling.

The Story

Bill Furlong, born to an unwed mother and raised in the “Big House” (well-off home) of his mother’s employer is now, in 1985, married with several daughters. It is Christmas Eve. As he makes the last coal deliveries he takes a load to the convent–where there is a laundry, a Magdalene laundry. He meets a girl, Sarah, who has been shut up, barefoot and insufficiently clothed in the coal shed. The nun who greets him attempts to gloss over the event.

His childhood had been decent–his mother’s employer kind and treated him like a member of her own family. Now his own home life is decent–a nice wife, daughters he loves, but in the back of his mind is the same doubt all children deprived of both parents have: who am I? Who is my father? A holiday visit may provide a clue–or may not. Does it?

Can Bill listen to a town busybody lecture on not getting on the wrong side of the nuns and not do anything about the situation in which he found that girl? Can he call himself a Christian if….[No Spoilers]

My Thoughts

I felt a little cheated at the end, but in a good way. Surely this was the set up for a longer story–a real book? There is so much here! Identity, injustice, social norms, moral indignation–you name it–all packed into a scant 70 pages (2 hours of audio). I had to stop myself

My Verdict

3 stars

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan


Review: The Salt Fields: A Novella by Stacy D. Flood


My Interest

I remember reading the announcement of this book but dwelling on “ghost story” and how I do not like those. Well, happily, I was once again between audios and this one was available. I’m so glad it was. Some times I enjoy things when I find them at moments like this that I would otherwise skip. A spontaneous “Oh, sure, why not” to a book can enliven my reading. Are you like that, too? Or do you plan all of your reading? I do both. Here is a good discussion (about 10-12 minutes in) on planned vs spontaneous reading on the podcast. Tea or Books? #97: Spontaneous or Planned Reading, and Tension vs Thank Heaven Fasting.

Now back to this incredible novella….


Image credit: Copyright Pearson Education Inc. Found here (click)

The Story

Minister Peters has had enough of the hard life in South Carolina where he is a teacher, but lives surrounded by ghosts. The ghost of his wife, of his little daughter, of family members, friends, lynching victims and more. When a mass grave of infants born to enslaved people is uncovered he is “done” and joins the Great Migration to the North that took thousands of southern Blacks to the great cities of the North.

His journey must start somewhere and his starts on a segregated train, leaving a segregated railroad station. He is thrown together randomly by the availability of seats with a couple–the wife so fair-skinned she could “pass” as white, the husband, a bit of a braggart and player. The other man is a returned soldier, navigating post World War II life back in the world of Jim Crow. Along the way, thanks to the slow-moving, long-stopping local train, they all have new experiences, share confidences and jokes, and reveal themselves carefully to each other.

An “inner dialogue” gives us Preacher’s thoughts and opinions of his fellow migrants and gives us much of his background.

My Thoughts

This is one of the finest “inner dialogue” stories I’ve ever read. The audio is superbly performed by Sean Crisden who should be considered for an Audie Award. If Novellas in November happens again this year, keep this book in mind. It is not to be missed.

My Verdict

4.0 Stars

Salt Fields: A Novella by Stacy D. Flood

Review: The 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel


My Interest

It’s always that ONE book you fail to add to your longer-than-lifespan Goodreads TBR that nags at you, am I right? I’d all but given up finding this (yes, a librarian is admitting to stumping herself!) when it popped up serendipitously in a book list. I immediately requested it from the library even though it was not to be had on audio.

The Story

“No one ever warned us that life would be long.” (p. 52)

I liked the whole premise of the book: Two passengers, who were briefly lovers in their first years of adulthood, find themselves seated side-by-side on a normal commuter train in late middle-age. As the journey continues, each tries to speak up and acknowledge the other while reliving their past relationship via flashbacks. Their emotions so conflicted, the story jerks along like a local train. When finally the chance to speak comes…. [No spoilers].

What I Liked

I liked the very ordinariness of both characters. Even though one was a greater success professionally, they were both utterly ordinary. Neither was brilliant. Neither had those magical, color-changing eyes or a profound wit. They were what they were: a 40-something executive and a 40-something salesperson. Both with spouse and family. But with a few weeks of shared past. That was all. Yet it was enough to tie them in emotional knots after all the years that had passed.

At 148 pages, this is either a long novella or a very short novel. Regardless, the length was exactly right.


The 6:41 to Paris  by Jean-Philippe Blondel, translated by Alison Anderson


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