All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan


All We Shall Know

“All We Shall Know” by Donal Ryan is a dark, deep, and highly controversial  contemporary novel set in a small rural town in Ireland.

Kirkus says: ” Self-Sacrifice, penance, and circumscribed possibility for happiness, narrated with great compassion and written with elegant lyricism.”

Melody Shee is 33 years-old and pregnant with her 17 year-old student’s child. He’s not her husband. Surprise. He’s the son of a famous Traveller. Melody has been his teacher for a year now. What is a Traveller you may ask? A Traveller is a member of an ethnic group similar to though distinct from the Roma, and the Traveller subculture plays a major and fascinating role in the novel.  Really, a Traveller is what is commonly known as a gypsy; a tinker, or even an itinerant.

This news is especially disturbing to Melody’s husband of ten years since she has not been able to carry his child to term.  And he’s no innocent in this story. He’s got plenty of baggage, too.  He decides quickly that this is more than he can bear and off he goes.

Martin, the unborn child’s father, also leaves the area. So Melody soon finds herself alone and somewhat of a pariah  in the small town where she lives.  Being an outcast causes suicidal thoughts and she probably would have gone through with it if she were not such a coward.  When she befriends a young Traveller woman named Mary she begins to come to terms with her situation and a turnaround of sorts begins.

There are things from Melody’s past that we learn that cause her to behave in such an unorthodox way.  Something occurred when she was a girl with a friend that has stayed with her all these years. It’s all a bit of a mystery that finally unwinds and comes to the surface.

Not even two hundred pages, Ryan’s novel is harsh, raw, and sad beyond belief as a novel of adultery, loneliness and betrayal would be. It’s not a happy book.  But a well-written one.

My review copy came from Penguin in exchange for an honest review.  This book will appeal to a very literary group of readers.


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