Claire Keegan’s short story Small Things Like These was published last year to much acclaim. It won the Orwell Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. When you read about Bill Furlong, his humble life, and his small act that took a great deal of courage, you’ll understand why it garnered such praise.
Set in Ireland in the 1980s the story has the feel of being set one hundred years before. The Ireland that Keegan presents is small, insulated, and quite traditional. You are only reminded that it’s the 20th century when there’s a brief mention of pop culture or fashion.
Bill Furlong is the story’s protagonist; a working-class family man who is loyal, hardworking, and keeps his head down. One morning Bill is making a fuel delivery and discovers something that disturbs him, though he is not exactly sure what he’s seen. When he tries to investigate further and ask questions, he is met with pushback from the town’s institutions, his peers, and most interestingly, his family. When Bill decides to act, he puts his reputation and his family at risk, because what he’s uncovering will not only horrify others, but it will expose the complicity of the entire town, that out of their own self interest they turned a blind eye to injustice and abuse.
Despite sadness of the topic, the courage Bill Furlong takes on provides for a deeply uplifting story. It’s an impressive that Keegan accomplishes so much in so few pages. Small Things Like These is well worthy of its acclaim.