Diana Hendry

Small but perfect: So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan reviewed

The author once takes a big issue and, with her characteristic quiet brilliance, illuminates it in a small homely setting

Catherine Clinch in The Quiet Girl, an Irish-language film adaptation of Claire Keegan’s novella Foster. [Alamy]

In an email from Claire Keegan’s Fiction Clinic, I learned that she’d be delivering three seminars in Wexford on ‘How Fiction Works’, while down the road, at the Write by the Sea Festival, Faber would be launching her new hardback. I was excited. I’m a Keegan fan. I even considered going to Wexford.

Keegan’s method is to take a big issue and then put a small, homely example under the microscope

So I was a little miffed when the hardback turned out to be a large-print 47-page story. Faber has been publishing short stories in small pleasing paperbacks, modestly priced (£3.50) for years. It did Keegan’s The Forester’s Daughter in this way. Usually the stories are not new but reprints from larger collections. Well, maybe new equals hardback equals £8.99. Phooey! Also disconcerting is that the first publication of this story, written in English, was as a French translation. (Misogynie, Sabine Wespieser, 2022.) The New Yorker published it in the same year. How fiction works.

Well, c’est la vie, how good is it? Quietly brilliant. Keegan’s method is often to take a big issue (child neglect, abuse, betrayal, the nature of love) and then put a small, homely example under the microscope. Her last award-winning novella, Small Things Like These, tells the story of a coalman discovering, through one single woman, the abuse going on in a Catholic mother-and-baby home.

In So Late in the Day Keegan puts misogyny under her literary microscope by focusing on a single relationship – that between an Irishman, Cathal, and his French girlfriend, Sabine. The story covers the Friday before what should have been Cathal’s wedding day and looks back over the year when he and Sabine meet and their life together when she moves in.

Keegan’s prose is translucently plain and simple.

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