Claire Keegan is one of those rare authors whose every work has won a major prize. “Foster” won the Davy Byrnes Short Story Award; Small Things Like These won the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction; and So Late in the Day was awarded the rare accolade of being published as a stand alone hardback.
Her writing, not word count, is what matters. So Late in the Day is only 47 pages long. Small Things Like These was the shortest ever novel to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
In addition, two of her works have been adapted for the screen. An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl), adapted from “Foster,” was nominated for an Oscar, while the film version of Small Things Like These, starring Cillian Murphy, will be released next year.
So Late in the Day is a character study of a man whose misogyny and meanness destroy what may be his best chance for happiness. As the story begins, we meet Cathal, the books protagonist at his desk as he goes about his usual workday, even staying a bit late to finish up some pending work.
After work, he takes a bus home. As the book follows Cathal through the day, and seemingly innocuous encounters with various women, he reflects on his relationship with his French fiancée, Sabine, and we gradually encounter the character flaws that led to his undoing.
Misogyny is not just a personal failing. Cathal’s colleague, Cynthia, tells Sabine that for some Irish men, women are just c _ _ts , that she often hears men referring to women in this way and calling women whores and bitches.
Keegan grew up in an Ireland steeped in misogyny. Contraception was banned until 1985. Marital rape was legal until 1991. In Keegan’s story, Cathal recalls his brother pulling the chair out from under his mother as she was sitting down with her plate after serving their supper, causing her to fall to the floor. Her sons and husband laughed at her.
Keegan’s writing, like her speech, is measured and precise, yet rich. Keegan’s five books to date run to just 700 pages and some 140,000 words. Revered by critics and prize judges for the miraculous density of her short fiction, So Late in the Day is a TOP Shelf read.
Find this column and others from the November 2023 issue here!