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Book Review: So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan

ByMia Siitonen

Oct 26, 2023
black and white picture of two school buses in Ireland

“Down on the lawns, some people were out sunbathing and there were children, and beds plump with flowers; so much of life carrying smoothly on, despite the tangle of human upsets and the knowledge of how everything must end.”

So Late in the Day, Claire Keegan’s latest short story published this year, is a tale transfixed by memory and the lost possibility of a different life. It weaves seamlessly between the powerful force of recollection and the harsh reality of the present moment as it follows Cathal, a civil servant working in Dublin, over the course of an evening as he ruminates upon a lost future.

Keegan’s narrative style is sparse yet overflowing with repressed emotion. The story is underlined with an immense solitude which serves as a haunting, omnipresent reminder of all that has been left unsaid, and of how an alternative outcome might have presented itself had the characters handled themselves altogether differently. 

So Late in the Day is unfalteringly economical with its words, and consequently every line is brimming with intent. This scarcity leaves room for a palpable disquiet in the silence; the reader bears painful witness to one man, alone in his house, going through his evening without the woman he thought he’d marry. Her absence is keenly felt through memory, and the space left behind is instead filled with the raw and sometimes cruel emotional response of their separation. 

This in turn gives way to a confrontation of the expectations of men, particularly Irish men, and their relationships with women. Here, Keegan’s exploration of memory goes beyond the traces of the foregone relationship, examining also familial influence and the impact of Cathal’s upbringing and environment on his actions and mindset.

The story’s singularity – of the setting, the personage, and the time frame – is crucial in crafting and maintaining its focus entirely upon the underlying question of what could have been. The book’s length is an important factor in the potency of this concentration. In just less than fifty pages the short story feels wholly completed and told in its entirety. In so few words it manages to traverse and preserve the history of a relationship, all whilst mapping through its memory the point at which it fell apart.

So Late in the Day is a refined, uncompromising testament to Keegan’s storytelling prowess, the impact of which once again marks her out as one of the preeminent voices of contemporary Irish literature.

26603 (750) 30-10-1974 Córas Iompair Éireann Leyland Leopards CZA 670 (fleet No A10) EZH 223 (fleet No C223) and another bus outside the railway station in Tralee, Ireland.” by express000 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0