All We Shall Know

Defiantly carrying the child of a 17-year-old illiterate Traveller student, 33-year-old Melody Shee is an Irish Hester Prynne scorned by family, neighbors and the gypsy Traveller clans. All We Shall Know is the weekly diary of her adulterous pregnancy. It is filled with anger at her husband and marriage of 17 years, the father she rejected as a child and men in general ("I haven't met a man yet who isn't a sex offender"). Underlying her vitriolic outrage, however, is a strain of remorse that leads to niggling self-doubt. After abandoning her best friend to cruel schoolmates and ultimately suicide, she reflects: "I don't know why I am the way I am, or even why I am." Melody is a hard case with a troubled heart--until she meets the young Traveller Mary Crothery. Unexpectedly barren, Mary has been divorced from her husband and shunned by the closed tinker community. Despite this ostracism, she is a spunky optimist who attaches to fellow outcast Melody in a way no one has before.

Donal Ryan's third novel (after Booker longlisted The Spinning Years), All We Shall Know is a vivid portrait of a complex woman torn between the spark of new life she is carrying and the hard life she and those around her are living. The narrative is rich in the cadence of both the rural Irish vernacular and the Traveller mash-up of English and the Cant. It captures the turbulence of marriage, love, sex, class and violence--while leaving room for the big Irish heart that lies behind so much great literature in English. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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