Small Things Like These

Set in a small Irish town during the run up to Christmas in 1985, everybody gathers to light the tree and sing carols. But the convent on the edge of town, has always been a source of rumours. It has a training school and laundry attached to it but no one is quite sure who’s living there with The Good Shepherd nuns.

Bill Furlong, the local coal and timber merchant counts his blessings. Married to Eileen and with five daughters doing well at school, he’s happy with his lot and has ‘a deep, private joy that these children were his own.‘ He knows that it could have been very different. His own mother was 16 when she had him and could easily have ended up in the laundry had the wealthy widow she worked for not taken them in. When he delivers some coal to the convent he comes face to face with life inside and with one child in particular.

Bill was given a copy of A Christmas Carol as a boy and this year he’s asked for David Copperfield and I thought there was a touch of Dickensian sentimentality running through this tale. I found Bill a really believable character, he doesn’t have much but he has enough, he sees the value in the small things around him but he also sees the child in the convent. Can he make a difference and confront the complicit silence of the town or will he too turn away and pretend not to have seen?

The Fell

It’s contemporary novellas this week on the Novellas in November challenge and I don’t think I’ve read a book this contemporary for, well, years. Set in November 2020, Kate and her teenage son Matt are isolating because they’ve had contact with someone with Covid and their neighbour Alice is isolating because she’s extremely vulnerable.

Two things struck me immediately I started reading, the first was how quickly I had forgotten the minutiae of lockdown rules in England and secondly that Kate, Matt and Alice could have all been characters in Summerwater. Our relations with each other were so well captured in that book, and here again, Sarah Moss manages to capture the essence of human connection as the story unfolds and Kate, who can’t stand the confines of home any longer, starts to walk beyond the garden gate.

As Kate walks, the beauty of the fells and her need for space to breathe alternates with the consequences of her actions. When she falls the writing becomes almost stream of consciousness in her delirium; for Matt and Alice, their anxiety and worry is heightened by confusion over the self-isolating rules and for the mountain rescue team it’s another night away from their own families.

While the story develops into a dramatic search, it’s also a poignant look at the everyday moments we missed and freshly valued. With some fun at the expense of lockdown terminology, I found this an insightful reminder of a very strange time.

Foster

When I saw there was a buddy read included in Novellas in November hosted by Cathy and Rebecca I was delighted, surely I could manage one novella in a month? Well, not only did I read it, I lapped it up in one sitting. Claire Keegan was a new author for me and Foster was the most beautiful introduction to her writing.

At first glance it’s a simple story of a young girl in rural Ireland who goes to stay with some relations, the Kinsella’s, while her mother is getting ready for the arrival of a new baby.

Their busy days full of household chores, animals and the farm are described in language as measured as their actions but underneath questions are bubbling and it’s soon apparent that there’s a mutual need for comfort. Time and space, a feeling of belonging and being needed are captured perfectly in 88 unsentimental pages.

Summerwater

So far my 10 Books of Summer has turned up some really good reads but this is the one that I’ve recommended the most. I put it on my list after reading Madamebibilophile’s brilliant review here.

Set in a cabin park in Scotland during the summer solstice, twelve people are on holiday with their families as the rain pours down. From an elderly couple who have been married for years to a couple about to be married, teenagers with their parents, first time parents and couples with young children, we go inside the thoughts and cabins of each of them as they observe and react to their circumstances. But there’s also a mother and daughter who are new to the park and are different and along with the sharp observations there’s a tension that seeps its way through the pages.

Continue reading “Summerwater”