All posts tagged: loneliest man

The Feminist Realism of Claire Keegan

The Feminist Realism of Claire Keegan

Halfway through Small Things Like These, the Irish writer Claire Keegan’s Booker-shortlisted 2022 novel, something out of the ordinary happens. The coal merchant Bill Furlong discovers during a Christmas-week delivery that a young woman has been shut in a nunnery’s coal shed overnight. Her bare feet are black with dust; she has had to go to the toilet where she slept. Horror is shot into the narrative like a hidden pouch of stage blood being pierced. Bill’s discovery seems out of a fairy tale—the woman with anthracite soles—and yet it appears within a 114-page novel that opens with a description of bare trees, wind, smoke, and rain, as if it were just another example of literary realism. But this moment, perhaps the novel’s least “realistic,” is also, as it turns out, its truest. Since 2003, the nonprofit advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes Research has been documenting the punishments meted out to the so-called fallen women—sex workers, unwed mothers, the mentally ill—held in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries from the 18th century until 1996, when the last one …