Great Books Under 300 Pages

Small Things Like These Review: Short But Powerful

📖 GenreLit Fic, Historical
📃 Number of Pages128 pages
🪴 Average Goodreads Rating4.19 ⭐
🌻 My Rating4 ⭐

Short books are my catnip. There’s something undeniably charming about them. And Small Things Like These is as short as it gets. At only 114 pages (in my edition, others may be shorter since the font and margins are huge), it packs a powerful punch. But it could have been more powerful if the main character was someone else. 

Small things like these review


For a short novel, it makes sense that there would only be one fleshed-out character. And that person here is Bill Furlong — a kind, good man who works hard and is prone to overthinking. A single mother raised him and his father was absent (although, maybe not quite). Together, they lived with a kind old lady who raised him well and loved him like family. 

In the present, where most of the story is set, Bill has five daughters, a wife he loves, and a booming business. The winters are cold and he sells wood and coal, so you can imagine it’s going well. He likes to help people who have less than him, often giving money and wood away. 

Where problems begin

I liked Bill, I did. He’s an interesting character to follow, and I would love it if this story focused on him and his relationship with Ned (who might be his father). I feel it would be a much stronger story. 

But, this novel is meant to be about the injustice and horror committed at the Magdalen Laundries. 

If you’re not familiar, the Catholic church ran the Magdalen Laundries. They exploited and abused young women down on their luck. They sold their babies and worked women until they died, and the victims of this horrible crime are still surfacing to this day. 

The most harrowing part of this is that the last of Magdalen Laundries closed down in 1996, less than 30 years ago, and that the formal apology for what happened for years only came in 2013. 

So, what does a man like Bill Furlong have to do with any of this?

Well, he lives in a town where one of the Magdalen Laundries is situated, and the church controls most of what the townspeople do. When he ships coal to this place one day, he sees what they do to women there, and the event disturbs his general peace. He can’t stop thinking about it — and the story ends with him saving one girl. 

Which is a nice sentiment, don’t get me wrong. 

However, the way that the story is told, the focus is more on Bill and how he feels, and how this will affect his life moving forward. The story that’s meant to be about women (or should be, at least) is focused on a man. 

And again, it’s not like I dislike Bill. But Small Things Like These should have been told from a female perspective, it should have been about a woman. Or, if the author didn’t feel comfortable writing from that perspective, then it should have been about Bill and his own life. 

Writing Style

The writing is exquisite. There’s an emotion, a quality to Irish writers and their work that is so enchanting to me. It zeroes in on the mundane, the way that normal people live, and the things that normal people do, and renders all of that in such a lovely tone that it seems like a fairytale. 

However, I have one small gripe here too — and this might just be me — but the way it was written felt very early 20th century, or maybe even late 19th century, while it was set in the 1980s. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s just the feeling I got. 

Small Things Like These Review Bottom Line

Small Things like these review

So, after everything I said about this, you might assume that I’m not a big fan of this book. But the fact is that I am — for the better part of it, at least. The story of Bill Furlong, his childhood, and relationships with Mrs. Wilson, Ned, the town, his wife, and his children, was interesting to me. There’s a wealth of good stuff in here. 

But as for the main point of this story, the Magdalen Laundries, that should have been told from a female perspective. 

If you liked this book, I recommend reading more from Claire Keegan (I certainly will!) — Foster and So Late in The Day are currently available. If you like the writing style, you should try Ronnan Hession and Sally Rooney (though their books are longer). Unfortunately, I haven’t read any good books about the Magdalen Laundries, but if you did, let me know in the comments below. 

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