A Contemporary Classic: Foster by Claire Keegan (#NovNov22)

This year for Novellas in November, Cathy and I chose to host one overall buddy read, Foster by Claire Keegan. I ended up reviewing it for BookBrowse. My full review is here and I also wrote a short related article on Keegan’s career and the unusual publishing history of this particular novella. Here are short excerpts from both:

Claire Keegan’s delicate, heart-rending novella tells the story of a deprived young Irish girl sent to live with rural relatives for one pivotal summer. Although Foster feels like a timeless fable, a brief mention of IRA hunger strikers dates it to 1981. It bears all the hallmarks of a book several times its length: a convincing and original voice, rich character development, an evocative setting, just enough backstory, psychological depth, conflict and sensitive treatment of difficult themes like poverty and neglect. I finished the one-sitting read in a flood of tears, hoping the Kinsellas’ care might be enough to protect the girl from the harshness she may face in the rest of her growing-up years. Keegan unfolds a cautionary tale of endangered childhood, also hinting at the enduring difference a little compassion can make. [128 pages]

Foster is now in print for the first time in the USA (from Grove Atlantic), having had an unusual path to publication. It first appeared in the New Yorker in 2010, but in abridged form. Keegan told the Guardian she felt the condensed version “was very well done but wasn’t the whole story. It had some of the layers taken out, but I think the heart was the same.” She herself has described Foster as a long short story; “It is definitely not a novella. It doesn’t have the pace of a novella.” Faber & Faber first published it as a standalone volume in the UK in 2010. A 2022 Irish-language film version of Foster, called The Quiet Girl (which names the main character Cait) became a favorite on the international film festival circuit.

[Edited on December 1st]

A number of you joined us in reading Foster this month:

Lynne at Fictionophile

Karen at The Simply Blog

Davida at The Chocolate Lady’s Book Reviews

Tony at Tony’s Book World

Brona at This Reading Life

Janet at Love Books Read Books

Jane at Just Reading a Book

Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best

Carol at Reading Ladies

(Cathy also reviewed it last year.)

Our bloggers have been impressed with the spare, precise writing style and the emotional heft of this little tale. Their only complaint? The slight ambiguity of the ending. Read it yourself to find out what you think! If you’d still like to take part in the buddy read and have an hour or two free, remember you can access the original version of the story here.


22 responses

  1. Loved your review of this book. It sure was an emotional read, wasn’t it? I have really come to love Keagan’s writing. I’ve enjoyed both novellas I’ve read by her! Also, I just wanted to let you know my thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time. Sending big hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Karen. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Keegan, too. We’re doing Small Things Like These for book club next month to coincide with our holiday social, so I may try to reread it before then.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I may have to access the New York Times version which you link to, even if it’s abridged, as our library service hasn’t got Foster. I’m keen to read this in full as I admire Keegan’s writing, so I’ll be looking out for a copy too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s been out for so long in the UK that I should think you could find a cheap secondhand copy. (I don’t have a sense of how abridged the New Yorker version is, but I feel like you’d certainly get the gist.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A good place to start , and yes, I’ll look out a copy too.


  3. Another one for my list.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Especially since you enjoyed Small Things Like These. I thought this was the better novella.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, something to look forward to!


  4. American novelist (who loves a novella!) Courtney Maum just recommended this in her newsletter. This one is definitely having a moment. Sounds wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s remarkable that it took it 12 years to make it into book form in the USA. I guess it’s her Booker shortlisting that has brought her the new attention.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. After this and Small Things, I think I will have to search out Keegan’s short stories. I love her writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I enjoyed some, but not all, of the stories in Antarctica. I’ll try her other collection as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, all the reviews seem to take very similar opinions.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] Foster by Claire Keegan – Rebecca at Bookish Beck […]


  8. After all the praise, this is an author I need to explore!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I imagine your library system would have Small Things Like These?


  9. This one sounds amazing but I think it might be a bit much for me. She needs to hurry up and write some more, right?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s interesting how some authors publish a book a year while others can take nearly a decade between releases.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. […] Ten of us read our chosen buddy read, Foster by Claire Keegan (with four bloggers reading Keegan’s Small Things Like These also/instead). I’ve gathered the review links here. […]


  11. Thanks for including my link!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wait it was abridged!!! I read the New Yorker version. Well I better find the whole thing now (and read her other book).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know how much was cut for the New Yorker, but I can’t imagine you will have missed much.


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