Fiction the thing about december donal ryan omnivore

Published on January 5th, 2014


The Thing About December by Donal Ryan

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Blurb: ‘He heard Daddy one time saying he was a grand quiet boy to Mother when he thought Johnsey couldn’t hear them talking. Mother must have been giving out about him being a gom and Daddy was defending him. He heard the fondness in Daddy’s voice. But you’d have fondness for an auld eejit of a crossbred pup that should have been drowned at birth.’ While the Celtic Tiger rages, and greed becomes the norm, Johnsey Cunliffe desperately tries to hold on to the familiar, even as he loses those who all his life have protected him from a harsh world. Village bullies and scheming land-grabbers stand in his way, no matter where he turns. Set over the course of one year of Johnsey’s life, The Thing About December breathes with his grief, bewilderment, humour and agonizing self-doubt. This is a heart-twisting tale of a lonely man struggling to make sense of a world moving faster than he is. (Doubleday, January 2013)

Other books by the author

Anne Enright, The Observer

“It is a fashionable thing to do – to work a narrator who is somehow childlike in an adult world – but Ryan’s control is terrific. He underplays the ironic distance and pulls our sympathies tight. And he tells a great story. His paragraphs are unnoticeably beautiful, his heart always on show, and he writes with a social accuracy that is devastating.”

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Sebastian Barry, The Guardian

“John McGahern is something of a forefather, and you can’t do better than that. But also, in the formulation of many of the sentences, in the midst of their tumbling and turning, are wonderful flashes of wit. This is one of those beautiful, serious, fully living novels that make you laugh out loud – and in truth there are very few novels whose humour rises as naturally as it does in so-called ordinary conversation. McGahern is an influence, yes, but so is the less well-known John B Keane, who in his vivid, vibrant plays also fashioned bitter miracles out of the murderousness, banality, loneliness and loveliness of village life.”

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Flemmich Webb, The Independent

“There is some light in the darkness. With deft changes of atmosphere, Ryan offers the reader tantalising hope for Johnsey through the relationship with his hospital friends, and hints at happier times through his evocative memories of farming with his dad, his mum’s home cooking, of eating the warm bread at the local bakery. The relief is short-lived: it’s soon clear these refer to an Ireland that no longer exists. Rural life is changing: heads have been turned by the wealth the Celtic Tiger economy seems to promise and avarice is tearing down the old decent values that kept the village together.”

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Lucy Atkins, The Sunday Times

On page 28 of this book a very Chekhovian gun appears. Ryan devotes a whole page to describing this “cold and heavy thing” that lives in Johnsey’s attic. “You could nearly feel its dark weight through the ceiling.” It is the only heavy-handed note in the novel, but it does its job. You know in your heart that things are unlikely to end well. The miraculous thing about Ryan’s writing is that despite the awful grimness, you read on, gripped by the increasingly desperate hope that poor Johnsey (and for “Johnsey”, read: rural Ireland) will be all right.

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Claire Kilroy, The Financial Times

“Johnsey’s voice is an endearing one. He speaks in a seductive rural idiom peppered with words from the Irish language and enriched with natural imagery (“May was Daddy’s mother’s name . . . She could make the stones laugh, too”). His interior monologue recalls those of Barry’s characters, who are also immersed in the natural world and lacking in guile. The price Johnsey pays for his naivety is off the scale. But then, the price the Irish have paid for their naivety is off the scale too.”

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Adam O’Riordan, The Telegraph

“Despite at times offering some stock images – tinkers and hurling, for example – the Ireland Ryan conjures avoids simple stereotype or cliché. The Thing About December is a quieter and in some senses less ambitious work than Ryan’s debut, although many of the qualities praised in that book are in evidence here. In time the two books will perhaps be read as companion pieces, as Ryan continues to establish himself as an important voice in recording contemporary Ireland.”

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Melissa Katsoulis, The Sunday Times

“There is a slightly odd shock ending to this otherwise mellifluous narrative, but what lingers long after is the sweet, secretly clever wit of its uncommon hero. Johnsey Cunliffe stands apart from all the other gab-gifted protagonists of recent Irish writing by being possessed of a turn of phrase — and a fate — that speaks the strange, sad truth about life as an outsider.”

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Stephanie Cross, The Daily Mail

“We can guess its conclusion almost immediately, but it’s the power of words (and the impotence of the terminally tongue-tied) that really interests the author. And, displaying again his exceptional gift for pinning a voice to the page, Ryan transforms Johnsey’s self-torturing internal soundtrack into something that’ll have you alternately cringing, cheering and laughing.

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