‘Your day was long,’ Furlong said. ‘What matter,’ she said. ‘That much is done. I don’t know why I put the cake on the long finger. There wasn’t another woman I met there this evening who hadn’t hers made.’ ‘If you don’t slow down, you’ll meet yourself coming back, Eileen.’ ‘No more than yourself.’ ‘At least I’ve Sundays off.’ ‘You have them off but do you take them, is the question.’
This book shortlisted for the Booker 2022, was a slow description of life, family and place, a precise description of a period in time, capturing the community and leading us to see the pressure of the church on everyday life, how the Laundries could have existed. Keegan gives us a little hope by putting a decent man, Furlong, at the centre of the story.
How nice to find here the idioms and way of speech that I assosciate with Ireland, illustrated in the opening quote.
Furlong, who runs a fuel stuffs delivery business, coal, peat, wood and has developed ‘good Protestant habits; was given to rising early and had no taste for drink’ had reached the stage in life where he started to wonder what life was about, when he will soon be tested:
Lately, he had begun to wonder what mattered, apart from Eileen and the girls. He was touching forty but didn’t feel himself to be getting anywhere or making any kind of headway and could not but sometimes wonder what the days were for.
Delivering early one very cold morning to the convent on the outskirts of town he goes unannounced to the coal house whose bolt was difficult to undo due to the frost and finds a young woman locked in from the outside for more than just the night, lead on the cold floor with her excrement around her. He takes her in to the convent where the mother superior gives him tea as the young woman is cleaned up and fed, she must have got locked in for a prank he’s told.
When Furlong goes back to town he is aware of the pressure to conform, to let things be. People would not understand him if he did anything. Mrs Kehoe the shop keeper warns him that they’re all a one the nuns and priests and to be careful, that the only good education available to his own children is with the teaching nuns.
The air was sharper now, without his coat, and he felt his self-preservation and courage battling against each other and thought, once more, of taking the girl to the priest’s house – but several times, already, his mind had gone on ahead, and met him there, and had concluded that the priests already knew. Sure hadn’t Mrs Kehoe as much as told him so? They’re all the one.
A straightforward forward story that captures the moment in time, 1985 just before the religious scandals of the nineties.
First published in English by Faber and Faber in 2021.