I took this book at the library without having heard anything about it, just on the basis of the publisher (Sabine Wespieser, that published another Irish writer I loved, Nuala O’Faolain) and on the basis of the little “heart” sticker that librarians put on the cover of books they want to promote. Well, it was not a bad choice at all, on the contrary. What a great chance discovery! I didn’t know what the book was about, as the French title of this slight book is “Three lights”, and not “Foster”, which gives away a lot more.
The book is told by an unnamed young girl, probably around 8, who is sent away by her father to live with a couple for a while. She doesn’t know them, and she doesn’t know how long she’s going to stay there, probably until the birth of a sibling. The girl is used to a large family and little money, and to people not really caring for her (the father even forgets to give her bag in the boot of his car before leaving). She’s stunned to be suddenly the only child, at the center of the attention of the farmer and his wife. As much as the original title would have let me wonder, this is not another account of fostering misery. On the contrary. The story is set in rural Ireland in the 1980s, and we see the daily life through the girl’s eyes, understanding little at first, then grasping at some secrets that people keep. In the summer she spends with the Kinsellas, she will definitely grow up and bloom. She will learn many things, big and small.
This is an emotional book, very short (about 100 pages), but deep and so beautifully written. The translation is flawless. A lot is left unsaid but readers still perceive emotions and connections. I would compare it to Elizabeth Strout on tiptoe. For sure, I’ll be looking out for other books by Claire Keegan.