All We Shall Know, By Donal Ryan
Penguin Books 2017 $16.00
Book Review/ Sabina Clarke
Donal Ryan from County Tipperary in Ireland is the author of two novels and a short story collection—all published to major acclaim.
His novel The Spinning Heart was winner of the Guardian First Book Award, The EU Prize for Literature and Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards.
In this latest novel, he reveals his uncanny ability to channel the innermost thoughts and emotions of a young married woman Melody Shee who finds herself pregnant with another man’s child.
And to complicate the situation even more—the father of her child—at seventeen—is barely an adult himself—and the son of a famous Traveller man or tinker—a simple illiterate boy whom she tutors in reading simple basic sentences.
The novel opens with Melody narrating, “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.”
The reader follows Melody with her shifting moods and thoughts through the nine months of her pregnancy. She reviews her life from childhood to the day she met her husband Pat.
And she dissects their relationship and its breakdown to the day he leaves her when she tells him that she’s pregnant with another man’s child.
Ryan has a very poetic style—imbued with unusual sensitivity to the inner workings of the female sensibility as in this passage, “How did we turn to such savagery? How did love’s memory fade so completely from us? The things we said, the things we thought. My poor Pat, my twinkling hero. Oh, me, oh cruel, cruel me, I never knew myself. Tomorrow, I’ll have forgotten myself again.”
Melody ruminates on the intricacies and petty cruelties in her parents’ marriage and her relationship to both, and her mother’s coldness towards her father who couldn’t seem to do anything right in her eyes—and her own guilt at somehow feeling complicit.
Sitting alone in her kitchen, she intones her own regrets for a marriage that is unravelling long before the Traveller boy, “I wished for fresh miseries, long before there were miscarriages or prostitutes or blue-eyed Traveller boys at the edge of manhood, sitting in my kitchen shrouded in sadness…we perpetrated atrocities. A holocaust we had in our three-bed red brick house, a wiping out of love.”
Ryan is first and foremost a poet—wrapped in the cloth of a storyteller. He whispers in your ear.