Foster | Claire Keegan #IRLnovella

Opening Lines:

Early on Sunday, after first Mass in Clonegal, my father, instead of taking me home, drives deep into Wexford towards the coast where my mother’s people came from. It is a hot day, bright, with patches of shade and greenish, sudden light along the road.

Foster was the buddy read chosen by Cathy & Rebecca for this year’s Novellas in November challenge. Given how much I loved Keegan’s novella, Small Things Like These earlier this year, joining in with a communal reading of her 2010 novella was a no-brainer.

I’ve now seen three different covers for Foster as I’ve gone around and read the other reviews. One appears to be a blue/black woodcut of a small house, a home, far off in a big field (with the David Mitchell Chekhov quote). The other has a big house, right up close, with a small window, blue skies, green grass but covered in writing and quotes. Mine is the one above minus The Quiet Girl inset. Which is a curious choice. I’m pretty sure there is no funfair mentioned in the book, or carousel. Is this a metaphorical book cover instead? A lone girl sitting on the sidelines of life, watching a small boy go round and round endlessly…?

I love the Irish way of putting together a sentence. Keegan makes excellent use of this throughout Foster – her descriptions, the dialogue, the narration.

This is a different type of house. Here there is room, and time to think. There may even be money to spare.

Novellas lend themselves to some ambiguity I think. While offering up a complete, compact package of storytelling, many things remain unsaid or left out by sheer necessity. Keegan is a master of the unspoken thought, the unexpressed emotion. They bubble away under the surface of her stories, erupting out at the end. Satisfying, yet open to interpretation.

Our unnamed child protagonist is sent away from her large, busy, hectic family, where her mammy is about to give birth to yet another baby, to a couple in the country. Some older relatives of the mother, although the connection is never spelt out. She is left with them for an indeterminate period of time.

The kindness, tenderness and acceptance on offer in this new home often overwhelms her. But the Kinsella’s have their own sorrows, and she realises she has a part to play in helping them too.

John Kinsella:

Kinsella’s eyes are not quite still in his head. It’s as though there’s a big piece of trouble stretching itself out in the back of his mind.

Edna Kinsella:

‘She wants to find the good in others, and sometimes her way of finding that is to trust them, hoping she’ll not be disappointed but she sometimes is.’

Dan/Da – “He is given to lying about things that would be nice, if they were true.”

Mary/Mammy – ‘Mammy says I shouldn’t take a present of a man.’

Her hands are like my mother’s hands but there is something else in them too, something I have never felt before and have no name for.


  • Winner of the Davy Brynes Award
  • Clonegal a village in the southeast of County Carlow, Ireland. It is in a rural setting, close to the border between counties Wexford and Carlow.
  • Gorey is a market town in Country Wexford.
    • Town is a crowded place with a wide main street. Outside the shops, so many different things are hanging in the sun. There are plastic nets full of beach balls, blow-up toys. A see-through dolphin looks as though he is shivering in a cold breeze.”

New-to-me word:

  • leanbh | child

Favourite Quote:

‘You don’t ever have to say anything,’ he says. ‘Always remember that as a thing you need never do. Many’s the man lost much just because he missed the opportunity to say nothing.’

Favourite Character:

  • Kinsella – his gentle warmth and understanding patience are like a great big bear hug. He’s a man I’d like to spend time with, sitting around the kitchen table, having a cup of tea and a chat.

Favourite or Forget:

Loved it from beginning to end. Kindness and hopefulness never go out of fashion.

I started reading it the first night of our recent mini-break to Canberra and finished it in Albury the following night. This little piece of Irish storytelling (with it’s own little roadtrip) will now always be a part of the memories of my roadtrip.

Title: Foster
Author: Claire Keegan
ISBN: 9780571255658
Imprint: Faber
Published: 2 September 2010 (originally published 10 February 2010)
Format: Paperback with French flaps ( I LOVE French flaps!)
Pages: 89
Dates Read: 3 November 2022 - 5 November 2022 (read during a road trip to Albury via Canberra)
This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.

25 thoughts on “Foster | Claire Keegan #IRLnovella

    1. That’s a big call Cathy! I think I have come to down on the side of Small Things though. I think it was a more complex story – still with courageous acts of kindness, but at the societal level rather than the domestic.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. As I said to Cathy above, Small Things addresses courageous acts of kindness at the societal level, while Foster is purely in the domestic sphere (although there are some poiltical/religious implications left like elephants in the rooms – the constant childbearing, the poverty, the impact all this has individuals within the family…).

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve just finished reading Small Things Like These for Novellas in November. Maybe I’ll save this one for next November – unless I’m tempted to read it sooner!


    1. That’s the thing with novellas – their slimness makes them tempting at any time of the year!! Since Catyhy & Rebecca started this event I have found myself seeking out novellas much more throughout the year. They’re defintitely an art form in their own right.


  2. I read this one years ago but never reviewed on my blog. I hadn’t clocked it was set in Gorey, a place I have driven through many times en route to see my mother-in-law who lives on the Wexford coast.


  3. Pingback: 2022 | The Books

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