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The Thing About December Hardcover – 2 Jan 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Ireland (2 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781620091
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781620090
  • Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 1.9 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 291,789 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Sue Kichenside TOP 500 REVIEWER on 21 Mar. 2014
Format: Hardcover
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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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Amanda Jenkinson TOP 500 REVIEWER on 3 Nov. 2013
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By alison mckenna on 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 27 Oct. 2014
Format: Paperback
This consummately Irish character novel by 38-year-old Donal Ryan takes place during the property "bubble" which led eventually to Ireland's economic collapse in the early twenty-first century. Johnsey Cunliffe, a shy innocent, is devastated when he is suddenly orphaned and has no life skills to sustain himself. Always insecure, he has always thought of himself as a hopeless "gom," bullied unmercifully, before and after school, by "a dole boy" and some of the other thugs in town. Although he has inherited a large piece of farmland, it has been leased to neighbor Dermot McDermott, and seeing McDermott lording it around on the Cunliffe property only adds to Johnsey's "dead-quiet loneliness" as he copes with the "noisy ignorance" of McDermott and "his fancy farm machinery."

Scenes appear out of chronological order and gradually convey Johnsey's past history; at the same time, each chapter represents the weather and activity of successive months of a calendar year. Inevitably, the reader's emotions and sympathies become totally engaged by Johnsey's story. When he starts working for Packie Collins, who runs a co-op, his day is stultifying: up in the morning, in to work, lunch in the nearby bakery run by the generous and caring Unthanks, back to work, "get a dog's abuse on the way home," try not to cry, home, up to bed, read a book, fall asleep thinking about dad or girls." At times he visits the slatted barn where his cows stay during the winter, and thinks about throwing a rope over the crossbeam and ending it all, but he does not, for fear of disappointing the Unthanks, the only people who are kind to him. When they go away for the summer, he is truly alone.
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