All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan

Review published on April 20, 2017.

Why on earth has this man had to go back to work to make a living? Since Summer 2013 Donal Ryan has been publishing outstanding work – and I should know because I’ve read all 3 of his books to date: The Spinning Heart, The Thing About December and, now, All We Shall Know (Sorry, Donal, I have an irrational prejudice against short stories but I’m sure A Slanting of the Sun is just as good.)

And each of them have had me absolutely gripped. I tried to convey my  admiration at reading group last night: “Oh, he’s the Irish writer, isn’t he? Sue’s not keen on Irish books.” Yes, well, I wasn’t suggesting it for group consumption as Sue’s predilection is well known. I was just trying to describe how he captures the human condition in words that flow like liquid across the page so you feel you’re able to soak up the very essence; as if you were stood to one side observing the situation without being a player. It’s not a thriller but at least three times I was on the edge of my seat with the tension Ryan invests in his characters and the way he gradually brings things round to a resolution, not a happy ending but something believable.

The debut was structured with a chapter for each of 21 characters, December used the months of the year building to an ominous climax. And now it’s the weeks of a pregnancy, starting at Week 12. But the first five sentences set the scene with absolute candour.

Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He’s seventeen. I’m thirty-three. I’m his teacher. I’d have killed myself by now if I was brave enough.


So you can make a good stab at the dynamic and the dilemma to be explored. This is a man who writes within the scope of a small world, one that he knows intimately and if you were looking to make a box-set out of these three slim volumes then you could easily have the characters from all three put in cameos for the sake of continuity that film makers love (but isn’t really needed).

I’ve never been one for extended summaries of the books I’ve read, I’m more interested in enjoying what I’ve read and – if possible – conveying my reaction to others who might enjoy it. So if you don’t have A Thing about Irish Books (see what I did there?) then give yourself a treat and seek out All We Shall Know as a matter of urgency.

Guy Pringle
April 2017
All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan
Black Swan 9781784160258 pbk April 20th 2017



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