Foster by Claire Keegan

Wow! What an absolutely beautiful, scintillating gem of a book – 96 pages of pure perfection.  If I was to recommend a book to all of my friends, both avid and reluctant readers, it would be this, described as a “long, short story” rather than a novella.

Winner of the Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award in 2009, Claire Keegan has excelled herself here, in a long story which was originally published in a shorter form, in The New Yorker.  Without giving away too much of the plot, our narrator, an unnamed young girl, is taken by her father to a farm in Wexford to be “fostered” out to the Kinsellas for the summer months while her mother gets ready for the birth of yet another child.  The impression given is that the girl comes from a near-impoverished background with a father who is a loafer and a mother who strives to keep their heads above water.  Therefore, she is thrown into a totally alien environment amongst strangers – yes, its rural, farm setting is similar to her own home but there the similarities end.

Foster is too short to be a coming of age story but it is certainly a “coming of awareness” story in that our narrator’s view of the world is vastly expanded in the space of one hot summer, and we don’t have many of those in Ireland, I can tell you!   I loved the fact that it’s not a sterotypically Irish tale of woe and misery – of course, alcohol does feature but in the context of a wake at which it is the norm to toast the deceased.  Instead it’s a timeless tale of rural Irish life in which the bleatings of the outside world are somewhat muffled.  Indeed, apart from a passing reference to the death of one of the strikers (the H Block Hunger Strike in the early 80s), you would think you were in a bygone era.

The writing is exquisite, so simple, yet carrying such underlying emotion and meaning.  I stand in awe of a writer who can capture the essence of rural Ireland and the story of a young girl’s engagement with the world in so few words.  Small is indeed beautiful and I wholeheartedly recommend this story to all readers.

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  1. Iris says:

    Such an enthousiastic review means I put it on my wishlist immediately. And a mere 96 pages too, I could easily justify buying that, since I would be able to read it soon.

  2. admin says:

    We aim to please, Iris, hope you like it as much as I did!

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