REVIEWED BY DYMPHNA CROWE
Claire Keegan (Faber and Faber: 2010, reprint 2022)
Last summer I came upon The Quiet Girl, an Irish language film based in rural Ireland. It was set in the 1980's but it took me back to the early sixties, a much simpler time. I was touched by the moving, gentle film, which led me to read Foster, the book from which this film was made. Written by Claire Keegan, it is a very slim book, more a novella or short story than a novel. And it is a compelling read.
We observe the story through the eyes of a young girl. She was taken by her father, without an explanation, to the home of distant cousins named Kinsella. Her harried and tired mother was left at home, about to give birth to yet another mouth to feed. We are shown a sharp contrast between the shabby house she has left and the bright welcoming home of her cousin. The girl also sees a stark difference between Kinsella, a solid, gentle and caring man, and her feckless father, ‘given to lying about things that would be nice if it were true’ (p. 10).
The girl blossoms in her new surroundings, where she is treated with care and kindness. Through her eyes, we see days filled with regular, mundane tasks, a sense of order and security. She is taught with patience and no sense of blame or shame and gains a new sense of belonging. But she also feels an underlying tension, something unspoken, a story that emerges gradually.
The spare but descriptive prose captures a sense of the place and the people, picking up particular cadences of speech. There was much conversation, but much left unsaid, as seen in her observation of the initial meeting between her father and Kinsella, a rambling conversation about crops and the state of the weather, skirting around the central issue, ‘This way men have of not talking’ (p. 6).
The summer interlude ends but a spark has been lit, a spark of hope, with a memory of warmth and love. She has been recognised and cherished as a person in her own right. The young girl will never be the same. The writer leaves space for the reader to imagine their own ending. This reader imagines the flame will continue to burn.
The full text of Foster can be read here
Editors would highly recommend Small Things Like These, Claire Keenan’s exquisite 2022 novel, shortlisted for the Booker Prize