Article published on September 23, 2015.
The Thing About December uses a more traditional third-person linear narrative to tell the story of Johnsey Cunliffe, than in Ryan’s highly acclaimed previous novel The Spinning Heart. In 12 chapters that cover one year of his life, Johnsey is not quite as other people and finds it hard to find his place in the world, especially the world of a small Irish community. Regularly bullied, without friends, struggling to make sense of the world around him, he is particularly vulnerable when his parents die and he is left completely alone.
The novel is set during the days of the Celtic Tiger and the boom in property prices. Johnsey owns land, land that has now become extremely valuable and it seems that everyone around him wants to take advantage of his innocence and force him to sell the land that he so dearly wants to hold on to, for it is all that he has left of the happier times when he was safe at home with his loving parents. He simply doesn’t understand why he should be willing to give it up. Some of the locals seem eager to help him, and even appear to befriend him, but Ryan skilfully conveys a feeling of mounting dread as the reader begins to understand what is going on behind the scenes as the pressure is put on Johnsey to sell.
This is a heartrending and moving story. The descriptions of Johnsey’s loneliness and bewilderment, those of a young man ill-equipped to survive without guidance and vulnerable to the avariciousness and greed that surround him, the book is a fable of how the innocent suffer when the profit motive is given free reign.
This is an unsettling and deeply moving book, beautifully written and expertly plotted, and one that deserves a wide readership.
Mandy Jenkinson, Cheltenham
The Thing About December by Donal Ryan
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