ALL WE SHALL KNOW by Donal Ryan
This book was stunning.
I’m struggling to give a brief summary of the plot, because although it’s a relatively simple story, everything I write feels reductive of the emotional journey that Donal Ryan takes the reader on, and the larger themes that he explores in his narrative. The bare bones of the novel are this: 33-year-old, married Melody Shee finds herself pregnant by a 17-year-old boy who she was teaching to read. But it’s not really a book about marriage and affairs. At the heart of this story is the bond that Melody forms with a young Traveller girl, Mary, as the focus shifts to their weird and unconventional friendship as Melody seeks atonement for something that happened in her past.
Ryan’s prose is lyrical and gorgeous. It’s the kind of carefully constructed writing that forces you to slow down and really take in each word. It’s a short novel, but one that’s not to be rushed through. I loved the experience of reading this as much as I love the impression it left me with.
This is ultimately a story about guilt, redemption, and betrayal, told with a searing and brutal honesty that made my heart race. This is one of those books that isn’t afraid of confronting the ugliness of human nature – how we’re capable of hurting those we love, how we lie to ourselves to cope with bad decisions we’ve made. I felt Melody’s pain and regret so acutely while I was reading this.
All We Shall Know is an intense, draining, and emotionally exhausting read – and all in under 200 pages. This was my first Ryan novel, but I have The Spinning Heart sitting on my shelf, and I think I need to bump it up on my TBR after how much I loved this.