Road to kindness

November 13, 2022

A touching story of hope and empathy


mall Things Like These by Claire Keegan is a fantastic historical fiction novel about the forced labour of certain women who are enamoured and encamped in the laundry to regain their sanctity under the supervision of nuns. This moralising mission occurred in Ireland in 1985 under the assumption that young girls were becoming “immoral”.

Claire Keegan
Claire Keegan

The author divides society into two halves based on phenomenal morality, i.e. people of high character and people of low character. Unfortunately, all the individuals belonging to the high-character group do not come forward to save women from the “low-character” group. Instead, they cause them sufferings and declare them outcasts. The people of high character make the survival of these girls more difficult, as they either fall prey to predators or their families leave them to misery.

One person is worried about these women – an illegitimate child who does not know who his father is. He was brought up by Mrs Wilson and taken care of by Mr Ned. The novel’s story revolves around Bill Furlong, who deals in coal. Bill was born to a mother who worked as a maid in Mrs Wilson’s house. His mother died suddenly, and after her death he was left with no one except Mrs Wilson, who was kind enough to provide him with everything he needed. The cause of his mother’s death remains a mystery for Bill. He later gets married to Eileen and has five daughters.

This moralising mission occurred in Ireland in 1985 under the assumption that young girls were becoming “immoral”. 

He grows up to become a coal merchant in the area. He owns a lorry and delivers coal to the convent. One fine morning, he goes to the convent and sees a girl, Sarah, who is on her knees and polishing. She pleads with Furlong to get her out of there. Suddenly, he sees a nun and turns toward her, but the presence of a pleading girl in the laundry disturbs him greatly. Bill gets extremely curious about the incident. On his way home, he keeps thinking about the girl. In his absent-mindedness, he takes a wrong turn towards a road he had never seen. On the road, he comes across an old man. He pulls up and asks the man where this road leads to. The old man replies, “It will take you where you want to go”.

He is worried about who his father is. On the eve of Christmas, he visits Mrs Wilson’s house, where her maid asks if Ned is his uncle. He goes to the barber’s shop, looks at his reflection in the mirror and tries to figure out any resemblance with Mr Ned.

Afterwards, he goes to the convent and rescues Sarah. She accompanies him to his house. On the way home on a freezing night, they meet many people, some known and others unknown, but no one asks him who she is.

Small Things Like These is a profoundly touching story of hope and empathy from one of our most critically praised and iconic writers that will stay with the readers for a long time to come.

Small Things Like These

Author: Claire Keegan

Publisher: Faber & Faber, 2021

The reviewer is pursuing a PhD in English literature

Road to kindness