Review: All We Shall Know

Posted September 15, 2016

Review: All We Shall Know All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan
Published by Doubleday on 15th September 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Format: ARC
Source: Competition Prize

‘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. I don’t think it would hurt the baby. His little heart would stop with mine. He wouldn't feel himself leaving one world of darkness for another, his spirit untangling itself from me.’

Melody's husband takes the news badly, and she finds herself alone and in trouble. She’s trying to stay in the moment, but the future is looming – larger by the day – while the past won’t let her go.

It’s a good thing that she meets Mary when she does. Mary is a young Traveller woman, and knows more about Melody than she lets on. And she might just save Melody’s life.

Melody Shee is 33 when she finds herself pregnant. The father of her unborn child is not her husband, but the son of a famous Traveller whom she has been tutoring.

Her husband leaves and Melody finds herself alone, contemplating taking her own life. It’s just the thought of her father that keeps her going; she couldn’t do that to him.

When Melody makes an acquaintance with Mary, a young Traveller with issues of her own, the two form an unlikely friendship.

Until now, I’d not ready any of Donal Ryan’s work. However his was a name that I kept happening across again and again – now I can see why.

Despite being relatively short, this beautifully written book packs a punch. It takes the lives of several broken, emotional and lonely individuals and collides them in a cauldron of hope.

It’s a testament to Ryan’s writing that he can convey, from a female perspective, the devastation of a barren womb, the heartbreak of miscarriage and the emotions of a pregnant woman.

He also explores the process of ageing, the disintegration of a marriage, the relationship between a tutor and student, the culture of Travellers, the suicide of a loved one and the scrutiny of living in a small town. All of this carefully entwined in 186 pages!

I particularly liked the format of the book – chapters which correlate to the weeks of Melanie’s pregnancy. Not only does it makes for nice short chapters; it also cleverly captures the passing of time in the story.

I’m in awe at Ryan’s ability to compact so many carefully addressed issues into such a short, beautifully written and extremely readable novel. It may be the first Donal Ryan book I’ve read, but it won’t be the last.