‘Early on a Sunday, after first Mass at Clonegal, my father, instead of taking me home, drives deep into Wexford towards the coast where my mother’s people came from.’
She wears light, worn clothing and brings nothing with her. The girl is left with the Kinsella family, the father returns to her mother, soon to give birth again. There is no goodbye or word of when he might return. This is Ireland. Remember Nora Webster and all that is unspoken?
So begins Claire Keegan’s long, short story Foster, a vivid telling of the period following a girl being fostered into a family in rural Ireland. In the stranger’s home she finds an atmosphere unlike that which she is used to, one she enjoys and becomes used to, though always there is the presence of that feeling that it might soon all be taken from her.
‘When I follow the woman back inside, I want her to say something, to put my mind at ease. Instead, she clears the table, picks up the sharp knife and stands in the light under the window, washing the blade under the running tap.’
Seen and heard from the perspective of the girl, we learn the circumstances of both families that led to this situation. They fall into a regular routine, life settles in this new family and nothing appears to happen to destroy the ease with which the girl has come to know.
There is a strange atmosphere throughout the book, it is the anticipation of something, we, like the girl, are wondering and waiting for it to happen. For she seems like the pawn on the chess board, her parents on one side having handed her over, the foster parents on the other having received her. Each move, every event that is outside the daily routine, ignites in the girl heightened powers of observation, developing an acute awareness of even the most subtle changes in those around her.
‘Kinsella looks at me and smiles a hard kind of a smile then looks over to the window ledge where a sparrow has come down to perch and readjust her wings. The little bird seems uneasy – as though she can scent the cat, who sometimes sits there. Kinsella’s eyes are not quite still in his head. It’s as though there’s a big piece of trouble stretching itself out in the back of his mind. He toes the leg of a chair and looks over at me.’
A touching and yet eerie telling of a story that begs to be read and reread, the writing is exquisite in its depiction and ability to create a taut atmosphere without significant plot, it showcases an author with an immense talent for the short story and makes the reader want more.
Claire Keegan is an Irish writer highly regarded for her award-winning short stories, she has published two collections Antarctica (1999) and Walk the Blue Fields (2007) which I have read excellent reviews of.
Have you read any of Claire Keegan’s work?
Oh, I read this when it first came out… I think it was published online in the New Yorker (?) and I remember loving it. I have read and reviewed her short story collection Antarctica, which is one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. I still think about some of the stories in it…
Yes, I saw there was a version of it in the New Yorker, I must say I would like to read the collections, there is something her writing that is alluring and also worth studying!
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How did you come across this book Claire? It sounds very sensitive and raw.
It was in our local English bookshop ‘Book in Bar’ and I understand the author actually came for a visit/reading, which I missed, but got a copy of the book anyway and sad I missed meeting the author.
Sounds really good!
This sounds gorgeous. Incidentally I finished reading Nora Webster (loved it) this afternoon. I must remember this one when I’m buying books again in the New year.
I knew you’d love Nora, what a talent, to have achieved what Toibin does in that marvellous and yet frustrating character. Yes, do look out for Claire Keegan!
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There’s a certain style of Irish writing that I love – spare, quietly understated often elegant – and this sounds as if it belogs in that category. Straight on my list! Thanks, Claire.
I am sure you’ll enjoy this Susan, I’m definitely keen to try one of her short story collections too, I wonder if she’s likely to write a novel.
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Thanks so much for sharing this–she is a new author to me. I love the language in the excerpt you shared, and will put this book on my radar.
I’ve got Walk the Blue Fields … must dig it out. Do like the sound of this one too☺
I read Foster three times in quick succession, trying to figure out how Claire Keegan created that eerie atmosphere. And I don’t have a clue. I can only admire the writing. It’s a story that has lingered in my mind for more than two years. I’m sure I’ll still be thinking about it in years to come. I haven’t read any of her other works – they were difficult to get hold of. But now Walk the Blue Fileds is available in my region on Kindle and it’s downloaded, waiting for me to finish Ferrante’s The Story of The Lost Child. Thanks for another helpful and insightful review, Claire.
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