The focus of this novella is a middle-aged man, husband and father of five daughters. He’s successful in his Irish small town: while others feel the pinch of economic crisis, he’s the boss of a coal selling company and people respect him in this Catholic community where the convent and the nuns know everyone. His childhood has not been as easy as his life is now: he was born from an unwed mother. She was able to keep him and raise him thanks to the generosity of her mother’s boss, a Protestant widow who employed her as a maid despite her shameful status. Other young women in similar circumstances weren’t as lucky.
The book is this man Bill at the crossroads just hours from Christmas day. Should he do what is proper in this community? Or should he do what he feels is right? If the Protestant widow had done what was proper he would never had been given a chance, and wouldn’t have known his mother. If he does what he feels right, his family will pay a steep price, even in 1980s Ireland.
This really is a Christmas story, too bad that I was not aware of it at the right time. The atmosphere and the themes are perfect, although the bad guys are the nuns, whose portrait is really scary. As other Claire Keegan’s stories, the tragedies mostly happen off the page, we see the effects after the facts, but the anger against the abuse of the Catholic church in Ireland is a lot more obvious than in her other books.
I have now read all the books that my library has by Claire Keegan, but for sure I will keep her on my to-read list!