“Elegance is saying just enough. And I do believe that the reader completes the story.”
If that is true, Claire Keegan has to be the most elegant writer of our time. She has perfected the art of short form fiction and her new story So Late in the Day is just further proof of that.
We find civil servant Cathal at his desk watching the clock, waiting for the encroaching weekend. He does not want to be where he is, he does not appear eager to go home either. And slowly, we will understand why. Over the coming hours, through a long office day during which no work gets done, and through the long bus ride out of the city, into the Wicklow mountains in Dublin’s south, he contemplates what could have been. The life he could have lived with the woman he wanted to marry, had only he been a better man – or better yet, her a better woman.
Keegan digs deep into the dynamics that rule the relationships between men and women in a world where misogyny is still so insidious. Her story unfolds, slowly revealing layer after layer of her characters and their truth until her readers are faced by the harsh truth of what let Cathal to where he is now. Inclined to feel sorry for him at first, you will soon realise that not all is as he would like to make it seem. Resentment, expectations, self-victimisation and a constant sense of threat have brought him to this point and now he is lonely and bitter but fundamentally unchanged in his view of the world, his position within it and his sense of what is owed to him.
Claire Keegan is one of my all time favourite authors and in this new story she has once again proven why. Her prose is as potent and convincing as ever. Not a word is out of place, each so diligently chosen you don’t even realise that it has been carefully selected until you reach the end of the story and look back on the road that took you here. On just a few short pages Keegan lands the most powerful punches and says all that needs to be said to show us the ugly realities we would often prefer to ignore. Quiet, yet impactful, she does not need to talk loudly to be heard, she cannot be misunderstood. Her character studies are so poignant, she appears to be painting real, individual people and simultaneously portraying universal traits. At the end, she always achieves the perfect balance of leaving you wanting more of her writing but knowing her story is complete. There is nothing missing here and yet it is reassuring to know she is already working on her next novella.
Published by Faber 2023