Saturday 16 March 2013

Foster by Claire Keegan.


a novella by

Claire Keegan

When it comes to dialogue, Keegan has oblique genius.
With incident, Keegan has an unerring sense of odd pathos.
With conclusions, Keegan is unprecedented ...
Reading these stories is like coming upon work
by Ann Beattie or Raymond Carver.

                                                       - L.A.Times.

The 'oblique genius' referred to by the Los Angelus Times recalls the advice which John McGahern, one of the acknowledged early influences on Keegan, gives when he writes that:

The imagination demands that life be told slant
because of its need of distance.  

In Foster, Claire Keegan shows us the world through the slanted gaze of a young girl  delivered for a while to stay with an unfamiliar aunt and uncle whom she knows only as the Kinsellas. It is an emotionally complex story situated in an unfamiliar and blinkered world, full of apprehension and innocence. Readers are better equipped to decode the tensions which surround the young narrator, but neither we nor the girl are ever completely freed from a state of heightened apprehension. We can see, even if the narrator cannot, how vulnerable she is and we can fully appreciate the nurturing influence which she has, by sheer chance, been delivered into.

Her own natural apprehension derives both from being sent to stay with a couple whom she barely knows and from the respect with which they treat her and each other.  She is not use to seeing how a married couple can value each other equally or to being made feel that she herself is an important part of the household and that she can make a valuable contribution. Her sense of self worth and self belief are unexpectedly boosted by her aunt and uncle. She does not initially understand their history, or the malicious curiosity of their neighbours, but she learns over time and senses how tenuous their position is in the eyes of their jealous neighbours and in-laws.

When Mrs Kinsella repeatedly warns the child that there are to be no secrets in their home, that – “where there’s a secret… there’s shame, and shame is something we can do without” – the reader senses that the Kinsellas might well be keeping something from the child. It is still a shock however when we do discover what the Kinsellas have been through.
Seven short chapters are enough to deliver an unforgettable view of the world through a child's eyes and Keegan's prose is taut and dense with premonitions. Some cultural references and a brief mention of the 'Strikers' links this story to early 1980s Ireland, but the novella's theme and writing are relevant to readers everywhere.  In Foster every phrase contributes more relevant information than we can know at a first reading and it is therefore an even more enjoyable novella on subsequent readings when we can track the foreshadowing and carefully placed suggestions more clearly.

Claire Keegan's first collection of short stories Antarctica, won The Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and was a Los Angeles Times Book of the Year. Her stories have won The Olive Cook Award, The Kilkenny Prize, The Martin Healy Prize, The Macaulay Fellowship, The William Trevor Prize and the Francis MacManus Award. She was also a windgate Scholar.

Of her second book Walk the Blue Fields, Joseph O'Connor has written:

 'This is one of the most exceptional collections of short stories to be published 
by any Irish writer in recent years ... [ and will] surely place her where 
she truly belongs: among the greatest practitioners of the 
short-story form now writing.'

'Among the finest stories written recently in English.' - Observer

Keegan has mastered a style that echoes Seamus Heaney’s early poetry and the stories of William Trevor, but which has grown more enclosed and lyrical with each book. The dark humour of the early work has given way to a lush melancholy that has found its perfect length at 88 pages. - Telegraph
Review by: Ann Fallon. 
Claire Keegan's books can be purchased at

and at

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