Book Review: The Thing About December by Donal Ryan

Ryan’s first novel, The Spinning Heart, was easily the best book I read last year. It was beautifully written and the story was engrossing. Ryan’s second novel, its set in the same village as its predecessor, during the Celtic Tiger boom years. The story follows Johnsey Cunliffe, a socially akward and isolated twenty-four year old who can’t deal with the environment changing around him. Johnsey is left alone on his family farm in rural Ireland after the death of his parents. He has no friends except two friends of late parents. he’s bullied daily and some greedy property tycoons are eager to snap up his valuable farmland.

I found The Thing About December incredibly moving and I felt the story stayed with me a long time after I finished reading it. It’s definitely not light-reading, the story is engrossing and quite upsetting. There is some humorous moments, particularly Johnsey’s monologues but the sadness outweighs any comic relief. Ryan’s writing is exquisite, he captures country life beautifully and his writing has a real sense of local identity and attachment to the village. He conveys Johnsey’s loneliness and isolation perfectly, he doesn’t ask the voter to feel sorry for Johnsey but it’s incredibly heart-breaking. I like the structure of this novel, each chapter is a month of Johnsey’s life as an independent adult. I think this structure helps the reader appreciate the journey Johnsey is on following the death of his mother.

I can’t recommend this book enough, the story is powerful and the writing is beautiful but I don’t think it’s the easiest read because it is a tear-jerker.

Have you read The Thing About December? What did you think?

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