- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books (July 4, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143131044
- ISBN-13: 978-0143131045
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 43 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #727,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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All We Shall Know: A Novel Paperback – Deckle Edge, July 4, 2017
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"So fine is this novel, and so purely told, that it establishes Mr. Ryan as the heir apparent to the late, great Irish stylists John McGahern and William Trevor… There are countless passages… that are so sculpted and beautiful that one’s lips begin to shape their words unbidden, the way a song can move a crowd to its rhythm."—Wall Street Journal
"A dwarf star of a novel: small, dark, impressively dense... All We Shall Know makes a novel about the heaviness of existence into something that is even, and easy — and, at times, perfect, and right."—Boston Globe
"[A] haunting, beautifully written story.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“An extraordinary portrait of adultery, loneliness and betrayal . . . One of the finest writers working in Ireland today . . .in the great tradition of tragic fiction, his lonely adulteress coming to grief in the same shadowy spaces as Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina.”—John Burnside, Guardian
“[All We Shall Know] is a novel of self-sacrifice, penance, and circumscribed possibilities for happiness, narrated with great compassion and written with elegant lyricism. . . Emotionally intense, deeply engaging, and profound.”—Kirkus
“A lush and lively novel that fascinates from its opening words to its tender last lines.”—Publishers Weekly
"Rich in the cadence of both the rural Irish vernacular and the Traveller mash-up of English and the Cant. [All We Shall Know] captures the turbulence of marriage, love, sex, class and violence--while leaving room for the big Irish heart that lies behind so much great literature in English."—Shelf Awareness
“A joy to read, for all that it breaks your heart . . . builds on [Ryan’s] reputation for cramming generations of grief and disappointment into less than 200 pages of beautiful prose. . . . He has also created two female character – cussed and brave, vulnerable and cruel – who come together to repair the past and stitch together a possible future.”—Katy Guest, Independent
“Ryan’s language is poetic, powerful and heart-rending – this short novel has a beautiful economy and control.”—The Times (UK)
"Stunning." —The Bookseller (London)
“All We Shall Know is a new and ambitious departure . . . exerts a powerful grip. . . . the novel, written at white heat in sentences that sometimes flow for a full paragraph, reads compulsively and is delivered with an impressively disciplined power. Ryan’s rise to prominence may have been meteoric and his output dizzyingly prolific, but he is a writer who is very far from being a flash in the pan.”—Roy Foster, The Irish Times
“A consummate artist . . . The denouement offers a satisfying element of redemption . . . a great writer whose steady maturation proceeds apace.”—The Sunday Times
“Raw, radiant prose . . . [a] wonderful novel.”—Sunday Express
“ [A] gem of a novel. With a sure sense of place, and a convincing portrayal of life lived at the edgy margins, it vividly plots the landscape of the heart en route to a gripping and ultimately redemptive finale.”—Daily Mail
About the Author
Donal Ryan is the author of The Spinning Heart, The Thing About December, and A Slanting of the Sun, which have all been published to major acclaim. The Spinning Heart won the Guardian First Book Award, the EU Prize for Literature (Ireland), and Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize. Donal holds a Writing Fellowship at the University of Limerick. He lives with his wife Anne Marie and their two children just outside of Limerick.
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The novel begins with Melody Shee's statement that "Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He's seventeen, I'm thirty-three. I was his teacher. I'd have killed myself by now if I was brave enough." Melody is married to Pat and she tells him that she is pregnant by a man she met on the internet. Their marriage has been fraught with hateful and reciprocal fighting, each trying to pull the other down as low as possible. Melody has suffered two miscarriages with Pat and he has been despairing of ever having a child. Though they once loved each other, now their feelings come out sideways and, much of the time, hatefully.
The novel is structured in chapters, one for each week of Melody's pregnancy, from week 12 through week 40. The reader is privy to her self-loathing and her inability to forgive herself for what she considers irredeemable actions. She is tormented by the suicide of her friend Breedie Flynn who she betrayed in high school, the dissolution of her marriage, and the the fact that she had sex with a 17 year old Traveller boy who she tutored in basic literacy. (For those who are unfamiliar with the term 'Travellors', it refers to Irish Gypsies).
Melody finds herself drawn to the caravan park where Martin's family had landed. While there, she meets a young woman named Mary Crothery to whom she is inexplicably drawn. Mary is being punished, almost shunned, by her family for having left her husband Buzzy while they were in England. Mary has been unable to conceive a child and felt that it would be best for Buzzy to be without her. Buzzy's family believes that Mary's family knew about her infertility and that Buzzy was set up. Thus a feud is in the works. It is to be handled in the Traveller way.
As Mary and Melody become closer, Melody is unaware of the danger that Mary is in. Melody tutors Mary in basic literacy and they share stories of their lives. Mary has the gift of vision and knows from the outset that Melody is pregnant, even before she begins to show. Their relationship and connection is one of the most lovely parts of the novel.
Melody's struggle to live, to not take her life, is painted vividly. Daily, she perseverates on dying and holds only her father's panicked eyes and her own fear of pain as tethers. Melody's relationship with her father is tender and loving. It is her father who offers her a psychological and physical sanctuary when things are at their worst.
As Melody navigates pregnancy in her small Irish town where everyone knows about the disintegration of her marriage and her friendship with a traveller woman, emotions flare and erupt. Life is not easy for Melody but the question is whether she can persevere and if she does, how can she do it?
This is a literary novel of the highest order, one of the best books I've read this year and a true gem. I had not heard of Donal Ryan prior to reading 'All We Shall Know', but I will surely look up his other writings.
But the themes and content are also masterly and at the end of the day, this book is about a morally redemptive journey – a delivery, of sorts, from guilt and shame to selflessness, grace and self-forgiveness.
Melody Shee is pregnant and untethered, carrying the child of a 17-year-old Traveller boy whom she had been teaching. Her marriage has dissolved into a pattern of rage and emotional savagery. And Melody is still consumed with guilt about her betrayal of her fragile best friend.
All We Shall Know is structured into chapters coinciding with the advancement of Melody’s pregnancy – from the end of her first trimester to post-partum. During that time, she will meet a younger, outspoken Traveller woman named Mary Crothery who unwittingly “teaches the teacher” and helps her atone for her past mistakes.
As Melody’s life falls into harmony, she will understand what she must do to forgive herself and live an authentic life. This is an intense and elegant book about the journey towards forgiveness in an often unforgiving world.
"Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He's seventeen. I'm thirty-three. I was his teacher."
Yes, I was caught - intrigued. And, in case you're wondering, What's a Traveller? So did I. And I found out, because Ryan's story is full of them. They are an ancient ethnic minority, violent and clannish, once "the royalty of Ireland," very much like the Romany people or Gypsies. Besides Martin Toppy, Ryan gives us his cousin, Mary Crothery, who occupies a central - and symbolic - place in this story narrated by Melody Shee, who was wed too young, and whose marriage is now in tatters. This book is something of a departure for Ryan, with its woman narrator, and other central female character, but he pulls it off admirably, creating two of the most memorable women from a male author since Larry McMurtry gave us Aurora and Emma in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT.
Ryan not only knows the female psyche, he also understands the old (despite his own relative youth), and I loved the character of Melody's 72 year-old widowed father, whose day is described thusly -
"He rises early and unstiffens himself as best he can and he manages the stairs the finest if he takes his time and he watches the birds and the brightening sky from the back window and he tightens up the place a bit, and he has his tea and porridge and a cut of toast and marmalade, and he performs his ablutions, and he puts on his corduroy trousers and his polished shoes and his shirt and pullover and jacket, and he goes out the door to Mass."
Yes. It sounds just like an old man's routine. Especially a devout Irish widower's, I suspect.
The chapters are each a week of Melody's pregnancy, and her story unfolds with an inexorable delicacy, building toward a violent yet redemptive and ultimately satisfying conclusion. Just like his other two novels, THE SPINNING HEART and THE THING ABOUT DECEMBER, I absolutely LOVED this book. Only maybe a little more that the other two. If you love beautiful writing, if you love a good story, if you love perfect, flawed characters, READ DONAL RYAN. He's still a young man, but I predict he will become a national treasure. My highest recommendation.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER