All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan


Donal Ryan is an author whose work I have been meaning to read for some time having heard great things about his previous novels which include The Spinning Heart, a recipient of the Guardian First Book Award. Next week sees the publication of his latest novel, All We Shall Know.

‘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.’

It is difficult not to be hooked by this opening paragraph and I was immediately intrigued about its narrator, Melody Shee. Melody is a woman in the midst of a difficult situation. She is carrying a child fathered by a considerably younger man which subsequently puts her marriage under threat. And as she breaks the news, her husband, Pat, walks out on her. In her loneliness Melody has plenty to reflect on, and this proves to be the focus for Ryan’s beautiful, moving narrative. The novel is told in chapters following Melody’s progress during each week of her pregnancy from the twelve week point in which she tells her husband. As these weeks progress Melody runs through what her life has become, the love she found and lost and the love she has for her unborn child. But it is not only the demise of her marriage that leaves Melody angry and saddened, memories of an old school friend creep to the surface, and she is forced to face troubling events from her past…

‘How did we turn to such savagery? How did loves memory fade so completely from us? The things we said, the things we thought.’

All We Shall Know is a wonderful, heart-wrenching book. It tells the story of family, of love and marriage and the things that can tear it apart – the passion and the hostility. It also looks at how we deal with our past, how things we said or did years ago can haunt us, and how we hope to find redemption. For Melody, an unlikely friendship has the potential to be her redemption, and to help her overcome her fears for the future and from her past. She meets Mary Crothery, another young Traveller who, like Martin Toppy, learns to read and write under Melody’s tutelage. Mary was another fascinating character, and whilst she differed greatly from Melody in age and background, both women share similar struggles, and are facing similar battles, particularly concerning family disputes. I really enjoyed the bond that developed between Melody and Mary, and loved the writing and the use of language. There were points in the book where I could hear the characters’ voices, and I could sense the physical and emotional scars that they carry with them. I was gripped by their stories, and enjoyed uncovering the emotions and secrets they hold.

‘The story was there all along, in the wheeling stars, in its entirety, the parts already told and all the parts to come, Brailled in dots of light against the black.’

I loved All We Shall Know, a story that had me gripped, providing a glimpse into a broken marriage and into the mind of a troubled young woman struggling to comes to terms with her actions. I was enthralled by the exquisite writing and the characters these words portray, with all their fragility, grief and hope.

All We Shall Know is to be published on 15th September 2016 by Doubleday, an imprint of Transworld Books. Many thanks to Sophie Christopher at Transworld for providing a proof copy for review.

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