A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
‘There are no secrets in this house, do you hear?’I don’t want to answer back but feel she wants an answer.‘Do you hear me?’‘Yeah.’‘It’s not “yeah”. It’s “yes”. What is it?’‘It’s yes.’‘Yes, what?’‘Yes, there are no secrets in this house.”‘Where there’s a secret,’ she says ‘there’s shame, and shame is something we can do without.’
In Claire Keegan’s Foster, a young girl is driven by her father to a rural farm on Ireland’s northeast coast and left to stay with relatives she’s never met. It seems like a simple set-up for a coming of age novel, but Keegan cleverly leaves out all the exposition and backstory. We’re left with only as much knowledge of the situation as the little girl can impart through her first person present tense narration. Which means that there are, in fact, lots of secrets to be teased out of the book’s slim ninety pages.
It’s beautifully done. The little girl’s voice is a masterpiece of characterization. Within just the first few lines we feel sympathetic, and as the novel moves on she proves herself to be intuitive, insightful, and able to impart big ideas in a child’s clear concise way. The characters around her are complex and fleshed out in a series of revealing short scenes. She gives us a very real sense of the setting too, through poetic little passages that explore the farm and it’s surroundings.
Which might make it sound a bit like some idyllic children’s book, and there are certainly elements of that, but there is also a very serious, very dark emotional depth to the novel that increases scene after scene until the powerful conclusion.
Foster would make an excellent, and refreshingly short, book club selection, but it’s recommended for anyone with a few hours of reading time on their hands.
Review by Matthew