The Thing about December by Donal Ryan

Posted by Guy Pringle, 27th November 2013

This book reeks of cowshit and . . . it’s brilliant! Anybody who’s ever tiptoed across a farmyard, hoping to reach the other side with their footwear unsullied, would recognize the Cunliffe’s farm in Tipperary. Johnsey is our hero, a big, quiet late adolescent with Special Needs. His mind captures all the nuances of what’s happening without entirely understanding or being able to articulate his position. But for us the signs are ominous as we root for him to take action, some kind of action, any kind of action.


Month by chapter by month, we follow his year as it builds to a climax in, of course, December. Over the last few years his closest family have fallen away leaving him not sure what to do when the land that is now his becomes highly valuable.


A small cast are intimately entwined in Johnsey’s predicament, most notably Mumbly Dave and Siobhan the nurse. Each and all are magnificently drawn with telling economy and Ryan’s skill with words does not fail him.


“Daddy used to say about Aunty Theresa that you had to have a business in town and a farm outside town before she’d look at you. There wasn’t many measured up to Theresa’s test of respectability. Even Our Lord Himself had only the carpentry business and no land.”


No difficult second novel this, Donal Ryan’s Spinning Heart has been bettered and we have a major talent on our hands. 


Highly recommended!

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