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The Thing About December [Hardcover]

Donal Ryan
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
RRP: £12.99
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Book Description

2 Jan 2014

'He heard Daddy one time saying he was a grand quiet boy to Mother when he thought Johnsey couldn't hear them talking. Mother must have been giving out about him being a gom and Daddy was defending him. He heard the fondness in Daddy's voice. But you'd have fondness for an auld eejit of a crossbred pup that should have been drowned at birth.'

While the Celtic Tiger rages, and greed becomes the norm, Johnsey Cunliffe desperately tries to hold on to the familiar, even as he loses those who all his life have protected him from a harsh world. Village bullies and scheming land-grabbers stand in his way, no matter where he turns.

Set over the course of one year of Johnsey's life, The Thing About December breathes with his grief, bewilderment, humour and agonizing self-doubt. This is a heart-twisting tale of a lonely man struggling to make sense of a world moving faster than he is.

Donal Ryan's award-winning debut, The Spinning Heart, garnered unprecedented acclaim, and The Thing About December confirms his status as one of the best writers of his generation.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Ireland (2 Jan 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1781620091
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781620090
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 13.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 35,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A concise, radiant, measured and integral work. . . . This is one of those beautiful, serious, fully living novels that make you laugh out loud. . . . Donal Ryan is a magus of a writer. He has such magic at his disposal to tell a story. . . . This is a novel to replenish the reader's heart and spruce the reader's soul, although it also makes one doubt we possess such signal things. It's a force of nature, high artifice and the product of a life-enhancing talent." (Sebastian Barry Guardian)

"Ryan writes from the rural heartland in prose that always pushes for the truth of things. . . . His characters are large-hearted people in a small-minded world. . . . He underplays the ironic distance and pulls our sympathies tight. And he tells a great story. His paragraphs are unnoticeably beautiful, his heart always on show, and he writes with a social accuracy that is devastating. . . . There are . . . not many who hit the sweet spot of the Irish tradition as Donal Ryan does here." (Anne Enright Observer)

"Painfully moving . . . Ryan writes with absolute confidence, balancing emotion, surprise and ambiguity. . . . In his descriptions of the conflicts between stunted young men and their domineering parents he recalls the great John McGahern . . . he is indisputably carving his own terrain with these short, fierce books that strike at the heart of what it has meant to be Irish in recent times . . . Ryan's work has set a benchmark to which other writers will aspire." (John Boyne The Irish Times)

"Clear-eyed and moving." (Belinda McKeon Irish Independent)

"Powerful . . . Ryan is clearly committed to his subject and possesses the insight and empathy to illuminate the heart of the matter." (Claire Kilroy Financial Times)

Book Description

The poignant second novel from the award-winning author of The Spinning Heart

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heart-rending tale 3 Nov 2013
By Amanda Jenkinson TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Set in the same village as in Ryan's highly acclaimed previous novel The Spinning Heart, The Thing in December uses a more traditional third-person linear narrative to tell the story of Johnsey Cunliffe, in 12 chapters that cover one year of his life. Johnsey is not quite as other people and finds it hard to find his place in the world, especially the world of a small Irish community. Regularly bullied, without friends, struggling to make sense of the world around him, he is particularly vulnerable when his parents die and he is left completely alone.
The novel is during the days of the Celtic Tiger and the boom in property prices. Johnsey owns land, land that has now become extremely valuable and it seems that everyone around him wants to take advantage of his innocence and force him to sell the land that he so dearly wants to hold on to, for it is all that he has left of the happier times when he was safe at home with his loving parents. He simply doesn't understand why he should be willing to give it up. Some of the locals seem eager to help him, and even appear to befriend him, but Ryan skilfully conveys a feeling of mounting dread as the reader begins to understand what is going on behind the scenes as the pressure is put on Johnsey to sell.
This is a heartrending and moving story. The descriptions of Johnsey's loneliness and bewilderment, those of a young man ill-equipped to survive without guidance and vulnerable to the avariciousness and greed that surround him, the book is a fable of how the innocent suffer when the profit motive is given free reign.
This is an unsettling and deeply moving book, beautifully written and expertly plotted, and one that deserves a wide readership.
My thanks to Netgalley for sending it to me.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grand so. 21 Mar 2014
By Sue Kichenside TOP 500 REVIEWER
Johnsey is a brilliantly drawn character reminiscent of the childlike Lennie in Of Mice and Men (Penguin Classics). A gentle, simple soul who is virtually incapable of expressing himself verbally, Johnsey maintains a convincing inner dialogue throughout the book, taking the reader, month by month, through the tragic events that happen in one year of his life and the misconceptions of others around him that lead to such shocking consequences for all concerned.

Donal Ryan's writing is exceptional: bringing a smile to the face almost as often as his tender words bring tears to the eyes. "He heard Daddy one time saying he was a grand quiet boy to Mother when he thought Johnsey couldn't hear them talking....He heard the fondness in Daddy's voice. But you'd have fondness for an auld eejit of a crossbred pup that should have been drowned at birth."

Apparently, this book is the prequel to Donal Ryan's much-acclaimed debut, The Spinning Heart, which I have not as yet read but this poignant tale can stand on its own. And stand proudly. A genuinely touching experience and a magnificent achievement.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read!! 12 Jan 2014
By Derek
Bought this book on the back of all the positive reviews it received and it did not disappoint. A great, entertaining read and one of the best Irish novels I have read in a long time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunningly and eloquent read 4 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an exceptionally well written book from beginning to end and deserves to be read for its style, beauty and glaring exposure of the bleak characters to be found in the world of men (and women ). As each of twelve chapters describes a month in the life of its chief protagonist 'Johnsey', a painful tale unfolds. It is set in rural Ireland and although written in a very Irish fashion it will appeal to any lover of well written literature because it is an outstanding read. Similarly, amongst the non-Irish who have discovered the gem that is Ireland and its people, this is yet more of the rich culture to devour and appreciate. This is the second Donal Ryan book, the first having won much well deserved acclaim for the author. 'The Thing about December' is a very masterfully crafted tale that flows easily from one chapter to the next building momentum at a perfect pace.
I first borrowed a copy of this book but knew within minutes of reading that I had to own my own copy and cannot wait for the next Donal Ryan novel !
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mar dhea 13 Dec 2013
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
If your debut novel is longlisted for the Booker Prize, it's hard to write a follow up. But within months, Donal Ryan has supplemented his astonishiong debut, The Spinning Heart, with a prequel, The Thing About December. The new novel takes up a storyline mentioned in passing in the first pages of The Spinning Heart - the life of Johnsey Cunliffe, the man whose land was so disastrously developed in The Spinning Heart.

Johnsey is an awkward man. It's not quite clear whether he has a learning disability or whether he is simply eccentric, but he doesn't fit in his rural Tipperary community. But unlike the worlds of John McGahern or Laim O'Flaherty, Johnsey is not looked after by a caring society. Oh no, he is mercilessly bullied from schoolage on through into young adulthood. His playground tormetors hang out drinking at the IRA memorial taunting Johnsey whenever he passes on his way to a make-work job offered by a family friend. Their jibes land - and so too do their kicks and punches.

The Thing About December is narrated as a single, linear story unfolding over twelve consecutive months. In each month, Johnsey is reminded of events past as he faces the purgatory of his present. We see the death of his parents, his loneliness, his guilt at being bullied. And, the thing is, there is nothing Johnsey could possibly do to redeem himself. He tries wearing cool clothes, he tries to make friends, but each attempt is doomed to fail. And then, as he inherits hios parents' farm and that farm starts to attract property speculators, it looks as though Johnsey might have hit the jackpot. But instead, he finds himself made a victim by scammers and chancers, seeking to part him from his fortune. The menace and injustice builds and builds with each passing month.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent novel - highly recommended...
I really enjoyed every single thing about this book. The year in the life of Johnsey unfolded gradually to reveal a portrait of a lost soul at the mercy of a wide range of... Read more
Published 1 day ago by G. Morgan
5.0 out of 5 stars Really wonderful
This is a beautiful and touching and funny and sad story told with intelligence and insight. He's a fine writer and I hope he stays natural and true to his talent.
Published 22 days ago by JosephB
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Thoroughly enjoyed this book, finished it quickly as I wanted to find out ....
Sad in places but very well written, great descriptive style would recommend this book
Published 3 months ago by Emma
3.0 out of 5 stars Great read,
Enjoyed the book immensely. Grew up in North TIpp and recognised the local lingo Liked his style and well done.
Published 3 months ago by Gerry O'connell
4.0 out of 5 stars Seeringly accurate; first class for atmosphere.
Moves at a fast lick. Need to be raised in Ireland to get the drift. Author full of promise for the future
Published 4 months ago by Dr B.S.Freeman
4.0 out of 5 stars How late it was, how late
I ordered this after reading The Spinning Heart. It is equally well written albeit exclusively from the perspective of a single character, Johnsey Cunliffe, which is on the one... Read more
Published 4 months ago by JoJo2
5.0 out of 5 stars great novel
An interesting novel, I would recommend it as a good read to anyone who reads fiction or chick lit. Great author.
Published 4 months ago by Elaine Lisher
5.0 out of 5 stars Clueless Gom
"The Thing About December" is an absorbing and entertaining book about a bewildered, young man, Johnsey Cunliffe, living in a small town in rural Ireland. Read more
Published 5 months ago by L. Davidson
5.0 out of 5 stars playboy of the .....
Thoroughly recommendable. Funny, poignant, insightful, moving, painful. A rare talent to be applauded and celebrated. Beautiful dialogue and a skillfully crafted narrative.
Published 5 months ago by Simon
3.0 out of 5 stars the Thing about December
A simple book not quite what I expected and quite sad really. I know there were people treated in this manner in Ireland but I do believe things have moved on and the ridicule... Read more
Published 5 months ago by cass
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