All we shall know Donal Ryan Lilliput Press Book Cover

All We Shall Know

The Dublin Edition

By: Donal Ryan

Publication Date: 16 September 2016

(22 customer reviews)


From the author of the award-winning novel The Spinning Heart, comes Donal Ryan’s most breathtaking, redemptive novel All We Shall Know.

“…written at white heat in sentences that sometimes flow for a full paragraph, reads compulsively and is delivered with an impressively disciplined power.” – The Irish Times

“Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He’s seventeen. I’m thirty-three. I was his teacher. I’d have killed myself by now if I was brave enough. I don’t think it would hurt the baby. His little heart would stop with mine. He wouldn’t feel himself leaving one world of darkness for another, his spirit untangling itself from me.”

Melody Shee is alone and in trouble. Her husband doesn’t take the news of her pregnancy too well. She doesn’t want to tell her father yet because he’s a good man and this could break him. She’s trying to stay in the moment, but the future is looming – larger by the day – while the past won’t let her go. The part she played in Breedie Flynn’s death, the poisonous ruins of her marriage, and the increasingly complicated fact of her pregnancy consume her thoughts. And Martin Toppy has disappeared. Mired in anger and self-recrimination, Melody finds redemption in her new friendship with Mary Crothery, a young Traveller woman. But this relationship comes at a price, for Mary is at the heart of a blood feud engulfing her community. Inexorably, almost willingly, Melody is drawn into the whirlpool of its violence.

Donal Ryan’s talent for character development and narration comes to the fore in All We Shall Know. Melody’s personality leaps off the page, flawed, complex, contradictory and above all, human.


Donal Ryan was born in Nenagh in North Tipperary. His first novel, The Spinning Heart (2012), won the GuardianFirst Book Award and the EU Prize for Literature and Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. It was also shortlisted for the IMPAC International Literary Award and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The Thing About December (2013), Ryan’s 2015 short story collection A Slanting of the Sun (2015),  All We Shall Know (2016) and From a Low and Quiet Sea (2018) are all published by Lilliput and available in a limited Dublin Edition format, unique to The Lilliput Press. Donal Ryan is a professor of creative writing at the University of Limerick and lives in Limerick with his wife and children.


22 reviews for All We Shall Know

  1. Lilliput Press

    “This story is told by Melody Shee and she is pregnant by a teenage boy. When her husband finds out about this he leaves her, and she goes through all sorts of emotions, but mainly wanting to kill herself. The story starts when she is twelve weeks pregnant and goes through the pregnancy month by month, so that she tells us all the things that led up to her present situation. She’s Irish, and the way she tells the story I can hear it in my head being told in an Irish accent. She tells it like it is, and it’s easy to read and poignant and funny and sad all at the same time. It’s a short book but the way that the story is told makes it hard to put down as you’re always wondering what happened next. A good read.” JOHN FERNGROVE

  2. Lilliput Press

    “Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He’s seventeen, I’m thirty-three. I was his teacher. I’d have killed myself by now if I was brave enough. I don’t think it would hurt the baby. His little heart would stop with mine. He wouldn’t feel himself leaving one world of darkness for another, his spirit untangling itself from me.’

    Donal Ryan’s third novel starts arrestingly with Melody Shee summarising her dilemma – pregnant by a pupil and married to someone else. She becomes drawn into the Traveller world and Ryan writes convincingly and has created a vibrant character in Mary Crothery, the young Traveller she comes to know. Donal Ryan’s writing is in a familiar Irish tradition and can be both lyrical and earthy. He has an immediacy to his writing and is very good at summoning a scene in a few lines. In the first few pages Melody describes how she tells her husband she is pregnant; Ryan describes him lying on the sofa in his jogging pants and how a light comes into his eyes for a moment at the new before he realises the child can’t be his. Each chapter counts down a week of pregnancy and Ryan uses that to emphasise Melody tuning in to the growth of her child, of recognising she is carrying another life.

    There is an explosion of exciting writers in Ireland right now exploring a post Celtic tiger landscape and I’m finding it very interesting to see the differences between Ryan’s style when compared to Anne Enright’s The Green Road or Lisa Mcinnerney’s The Glorious Heresies. In some ways Ryan is in the more traditional Irish style but his take is also fresh and modern.” PURPLE HEART

  3. Lilliput Press

    “With a masters in journalism, a frustrated would-be writer, her prose searing and insightful in print, but foul-mouthed in her speech, self-absorbed, quick to fly off the handle, swinging between extreme attachments and violent dislikes, unstable to the point of being a little mad, the inaptly named Melody is difficult to like. Donal Ryan contrives to hook us onto this sad, often violent tale, by the power of his quicksilver flow of words, the original, striking descriptions and wry Irish turn of phrase which makes one wonder how such articulate people can so often fail to avert trouble by sheer verbal skill alone.

    We know from the first paragraph that Melody has got herself pregnant by seventeen-year-old Martin Toppy, a pupil almost half her age, the handsome, illiterate son of a famous Irish Traveller. Although not prepared to risk telling her husband Pat the truth about the baby’s parentage, it is clear that she expects the pregnancy to bring to an end what has evidently been a tempestuous marriage, with Melody’s unpredictable, unreasonable behaviour the root of the problem . As Melody reveals her past, layer by layer, it becomes ever more apparent that her ability to relate positively to others has been blighted by a profound sense of guilt over her treatment years before of her former best schoolmate, Breedie Flynn. Melody’s current striking up of an almost obsessive friendship with the young Traveller Mary Crothery becomes an attempt to atone for the past actions which haunt her. Even in this, she may be accused of a degree of manipulative control-freakery.

    Judging by this and Donal Ryan’s first novel, “The Spinning Heart” which I found superior perhaps because less intensely bleak as regards the unrelenting piling up of misfortunes, the author’s central theme is the interplay of dysfunctional families and neighbours in close-knit, claustrophobic small-town Irish communities, riddled with Catholic guilt, struggling to adjust to external pressures for change.

    If I had not known to the contrary, I would have said this novel was the work of a woman, as the chapters chart the course of Melody’s pregnancy, week by week. Yet I am not sure a woman would be likely to take with such apparent ease the course of action she takes at the end of the novel, by way of expiating past sin.” ANTENNA

  4. Lilliput Press

    “Portrait of a pregnancy amid dramatic events. Husband Pat is not the father and has quit, mortified. Thirty three year old Melody narrates, she tortured by guilt of her lapse with seventeen year old pupil Martin and by so many other memories she would prefer not to have.

    Pictured here is an Irish community hidebound by tradition, sympathy sparse for those who cross the line. Even more extreme are the Travellers with those who transgress. One of their number, Mary Gothery, may well have inadvertently caused a feud involving savagery and possibly a fight to the death.

    This short tale grips from the start with language raw but lyrical. All involved are portrayed with rich turns of phrase. Relationships are movingly described: Melody with her ailing father; she with former best friend Breedie; she now with the deeply troubled Mary. Many readers will become deeply concerned – all the more remarkable as Melody herself is rather hard to like.

    Here is a writer in full control, those depicted forever in search of a happiness that eludes. Is that baby destined to be born? What future awaits, should that be?

    Readers may emerge drained, everything too convincing for comfort.

    All highly impressive though.” MR D L REES

  5. Lilliput Press

    “This is a fine, well-written novel which I recommend highly.
    The story is told by Melody, who is pregnant and each chapter is a countdown to the birth. As the father is a 17 year old Traveller, some years her junior and most certainly not her husband, there are problems. However, the biggest problem for me was Melody herself. I didn’t like her at all. Given that we only see things from her standpoint, it does give the reader a lot to think about. She’s manipulative, spiteful and unkind, her pregnancy is of her own making [if you see what I mean] and although seemingly seeking forgiveness, she also contemplates suicide. I found her very disagreeable. Her treatment of her school friend Breedy sums her up really – odious. You may disagree!!
    In direct contrast, and it may be what the author intended, is Mary, a young Traveller who befriends her. Now here’s a character to like! I think everything about her appealed to me, not least her innocence and carefree attitude. And the way she speaks comes across superbly; you can almost hear the Irish dialect coming from her.
    Mary has a Traveller family background, with a father who sorts out perceived slights on family honour with sticks and bare fists. In marked contrast is Melody’s father, for me the finest drawn character in the book. Living on his own, he is kind, gentle and caring despite his frail body. It’s good – and telling – the way he bonds with Mary more than his own daughter.
    I’m not sure I was over enamoured of the ending but I enjoyed the book very much, even if, in a number of places, it makes you ask questions about your own life – things you did or didn’t do, regrets etc.” JEFF

  6. Lilliput Press

    “Irish writer Donal Ryan hails from the heart of Eire, andn he appears to be very much in tune with the unique traveller culture which is at the heart of this novel. The tale surrounds the incendiary relationship between Melody Shee and a young traveller. The result of which-a child- provokes a slighted husband to leave the fold and leave the protagonist and her child to face the world alone.
    What transpires in the aftermath forms the meat of the book which is overall, about love and redemption.
    A book which my partner really enjoyed I might add.” JAGO WELLS

  7. Lilliput Press

    “This is the first book I’ve read by Donal Ryan but it won’t be the last. He has an economic way of writing which I like but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in substance. The short, often staccato, sentences are potent and impacting. This is a very Irish book with lots of words and phrases which could be a bit tedious for some but read in the right accent gives a full on ‘I am there, in Ireland’ feel to it.

    The story centres around Melody and her failing marriage to Pat after revealing she is pregnant with another man’s child. Both Melody and Pat have unstable personalities, both fly of the handle, blame each other, fight at the drop of a hat. Melody carries this anger through her pregnancy and has some raucous and sometimes amusing outbursts. Much of her time is spent at a traveller’s campsite with Mary, cousin of the baby’s father, and we experience a little of the traveller’s lifestyle.

    The chapters are cleverly headed by the week numbers of Melody’s pregnancy and we can imagine her baby’s progress and size as the weeks move on. I was also very conscious of this being a male author writing of a very feminine time of a woman’s life – I think he did it expertly. The ending was surprising and I did question whether a mother could actually do that.” A ROSE

  8. Lilliput Press

    “All We Shall Know is based around 33-year-old Melody who has just discovered she is pregnant with her 17-year-old student Martin Toppy’s baby. Melody now needs to figure out what she’s going to do, while dealing with the opinions of the entire small Irish town she lives in and ingratiating herself in the traveller community Martin is from.

    This is pretty interesting. Donal Ryan is masterful at weaving the stories and personalities of small Irish towns and communities full of opinions and religious observations and that’s certainly true for this one. The story is told week by week of Melody’s pregnancy and we see her face a lot of criticism and hate from the community for having a baby that is not her husbands (it was pretty intriguing to see how no-one believed her when she told some of the scandalous things that the men of the town had been up to but they were, of course, happy to judge her for an affair).

    Melody isn’t a particularly nice character. She became mean and bitter in her marriage and it’s clear that she never made Pat’s life easy for him. But then she is also kind towards Martin, and Mary Crothery – another traveler that she helps learn to read – and is often a place for Mary to come to when she needs someone. Mary and Melody are both living similar lives in a way – rejected by their husbands because of baby issues, shunned by the community they live in and it was great to see the friendship they weaved. I also enjoyed the emphasis on the Irish traveling community in this from the expectations of the women to stay at home, have babies and keep house from a young age and what happens when this isn’t an option by choice or not, their views on outsiders and the whole deal with traveler feuds and how they’re sparked and dealt with. But this book had a great way of showing that the traveler community is just a community of normal people with certain values that they deem important and uphold but at the end of the day family is everything.

    I definitely was not expecting the ending, it was fantastic and took me completely out of the blue.” AOIFE

  9. Lilliput Press

    “Melody Shee is pregnant and alone. Her husband, Pat, left her when she told him about her affair. But even he doesn’t know the truth. Melody doesn’t dare tell anyone that she slept with 17 year-old Martin Toppy. She was supposed to be teaching him to read and write.

    Melody doesn’t know what to do. She is angry; at Pat and at the world, but mostly at herself. How has she ended up like this? She has no-one to turn to except her Dad, but she doesn’t want to break his heart. Other people have friends, but not Melody.

    Enter Mary Crothery, a young Traveller woman who has a way of seeing through the walls Mary has built around herself. As an unlikely friendship is formed, Melody finds herself being drawn to into the Travelling community more and more. She cares about what happens to Melody. She also cares about what happens to Martin, despite everything that has happened. Or maybe because of it, she’s not really sure.

    Ryan has a great way with the Irish dialect that draws you in and makes his exploration of rural communities in contemporary Ireland a joy to read. His prose is lyrical, yet concise. At less than 200 pages, All We Shall Know packs an emotional punch.

    *I received an Advance Reader Copy (eARC) from the publisher via Netgalley” PAULA

  10. Lilliput Press

    “‘All We Shall Know’ tells the tale of Melody, who has foolishly betrayed her husband, with a 17 year old traveller. As a direct result of this incident, she is now carrying a baby, and her husband has left her.

    Melody is no stranger to guilt, nor to the gossip that seems to follow her every step, like hungry wolves snapping at her heels. There are some places where you may find yourself less in the spotlight, despite what has happened. This is not the kind of place where Melody resides, however, for she lives in rural Ireland.

    The story is narrated by Melody, and punctuated by the chapter notifications of what stage her pregnancy has reached. During the tale it becomes swiftly apparent that Melody is not in a great place mentally. In fact, she actively thinks of suicide a lot of the time.

    Melody finds herself at the traveller’s camp, and this is where she meets Mary, a young traveller woman who is also in the midst of a crisis of her own. Melody is soon drawn up into the pain of everybody else, and in the horrors of her own self-inflicted suffering. Melody may have a beautiful name, but lurking within is a very unlovable character. In contrast, Mary is so much more affable – even Melody’s dad seems to notice this fact!

    The characters are all well-thought out, and I found it interesting to see that Melody was portrayed in such an ugly manner, even by the author. The tale flows well, and I would definitely be interested in seeing more work by this author.

    Overall, ‘All We Shall Know’ is a good book, and one that I am sure many will enjoy.” H PIERCE

  11. Lilliput Press

    “This is Irish author Donal Ryan’s third novel, and he’s an author really getting into his stride, after receiving prizes for his first novel, then a somewhat tricky second novel (IMHO). All We Shall Know tells the story of Melody Shee and the opening lines are arresting to say the least:

    “Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He’s seventeen, I’m thirty-three. I was his teacher. I’d have killed myself by now if I was brave enough.”

    Melody tells the story of her pregnancy, her dysfunctional relationship with her husband who walks out when she tells him, her attraction to the local Traveller site and the tentative friendship she strikes up with a teenaged girl there called Mary who is the subject of a clan war within the Traveller community when she left her own husband.

    Melody starts her story at week twelve of her pregnancy and the chapters follow week by week up to the birth. Melody has a hard time, not with the baby itself, but with attitudes of those around her towards her adultery. It’s one thing for men to sow their oats elsewhere, but for women in Ireland, it is still unforgiveable. Unfortunately Melody makes it worse for herself by being quite unlikeable at times. Thank goodness for her father who is just lovely and loving.

    Ryan has a great ear for dialogue, and captures that small town mentality where everyone knows, and interferes in given the chance, each other’s business. I can’t tell you what happens, but the ending is superb!” ANNABELLE GASKELL

  12. Lilliput Press

    “All We Shall Know tells the story of 33 year old Melody Shee who is pregnant by the 17 year old traveller boy she has been teaching to read. The boy has gone tarmacking with his family, and Melody’s husband Pat, knowing he is not the father of her child, has left her.

    Narrated by Melody, a prickly and unsympathetic character, this is an intimate portrait of loneliness, guilt and redemption. In an attempt to feel closer to her absent young lover, Melody befriends a young traveller woman who has been rejected by her family for leaving her husband and failing to give him a child. This poignant relationship gives her (and us) an insight into the centuries old customs and beliefs of the traveller community and the brutal realities of their everyday life.

    The Irish dialect is both poetic and brutal and, at less than 200 pages, this is a quick but powerful read.” DENISE

  13. Lilliput Press

    “This is the first book I have read by Donal Ryan, but the third novel he has written. Acclaimed as a ‘life-enhancing talent’ by The Guardian newspaper, I found that the story was exceptionally well written and intriguing as to where the prose was taking us. The tale starts off with the words ‘Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He’s seventeen, I’m thirty-three. I was a teacher.’ What a fabulous opening! However, although the book is written in an unusual and unique style, it falls short, I feel, of examining in more depth the moral consequences of her seduction of a boy. Melody Shee is, in fact an anti-hero, who hates herself for what she did to her school friend Breedie Flynn. Her past unduly influences her future actions as she tries to make ‘right’ all the wrongs she has done. Despite the critique though, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would happily pick up another one of Donal Ryan’s stories.” P BARCLAY

  14. Lilliput Press

    “And, in these opening lines of ‘All We Shall Know’, Donal Ryan sets the reader for a brief (fewer than two hundred pages) but challenging story. Challenging? For me, certainly. It took me a while to get beyond simply judging Melody Shee to paying attention to her story. Why does a thirty-three-year-old woman become pregnant to a seventeen-year-old? How did their lives intersect in this way? What about her husband Pat?

    ‘These are all just bits and fragments, shards; no one can tell the story of a life or a friendship or a death or a marriage day for day for day.’

    The writing held my attention as the story unfolded. Week by week, through the second and third trimesters of her pregnancy, Melody moves between the concerns of the present and the events of the past. Her pregnancy shapes her life now, but her elderly father and her friendship with Mary Crothery (a Traveller woman) add other dimensions. Melody also reflects on the past, on her marriage to Pat (who has now moved out), on how she treated her friend Breedie Flynn. All the while, she wonders about her baby.

    ‘Fate, the idea of it, has substance only in retrospect, yet lately all my moments seem ordained, fashioned by a finger not my own.’

    Chapter by chapter Melody’s pregnancy progresses as does her relationship with Mary Crothery. It’s Melody’s world we are tied to, but as each chapter ended I found myself wondering what would happen at the end of the pregnancy. What choices would Melody make? How would I (the involved and judgmental reader) react to those choices?

    I found this novel challenging. While I never felt great sympathy for Melody, it was the consequences of her choices and Mr Ryan’s presentation of them that held my attention. And kept me thinking. This novel is short enough to be read in one sitting and complex enough to hold your attention for much longer.” JENNIFER CAMERON-SMITH

  15. Lilliput Press

    “Melody Shee has gotten pregnant from a seventeen year old traveller who comes from a top family in the Irish traveller community. Problem is she is also married. They have been trying for a family for some time – so Pat takes it as bad as you can imagine.

    As Melody tries to come to terms with her new condition so too does she find, in isolation, the ability to face the past and the wreckage that the wake of her failed marriage has left. And just like the wake of a great ship the ripples are wider than she had at first admitted to.

    Now this is one of those books that are like meat and drink. I just devoured it, the words seemed to seep off of the page and into my consciousness. It was over too quickly. Written in a way that is nakedly human and beautifully observed. Donal Ryan has received praise from Sebastian Barry and this is testament to why that was richly deserved. A rewarding read that is likely to yield more on subsequent readings and as such is absolutely recommended.” TOMMY DOOLEY

  16. Lilliput Press

    “An intensely focused novel, looking at loss, betrayal, self:destruction and the power of love. In the village, on the campsite, in school, the same power of the group excludes and punishes. Full of guilt, the characters punish themselves even when they want to show love. We can’t help but sympathise and hope they can forgive each other and themselves.” CAROLINA MOON

  17. Lilliput Press

    “Is it possible for a book to be both hauntingly beautiful and deeply depressing? Melody Shee is a bright, educated woman in a stifling small Irish town, where modernity – her elderly father figuring out how to make coffee from videos online – and oppressive tradition collide. She first ‘lost her reason’ at fourteen, at her mother’s funeral, seeing the lie of rosary beads threaded through her still, pale hands; now at thirty-three she is often on shaky ground, contemplating suicide in the early days of her pregnancy.

    This is her fourth pregnancy, the only one not to end in blood and pain and an ever-increasing distance between herself and Pat, her husband and childhood sweetheart. It is also not Pat’s child, which the community quickly discover. What they don’t know is that the father is Martin Toppy, a seventeen-year-old Traveller Melody was teaching how to read. What they don’t know is that Pat is not alone in the town in his frequenting of prostitutes – not that anyone wants to hear this, when there’s a woman to judge and shame.

    Melody judges herself harshest of all, despite occasional moments of defiance; she frequently refers to herself as a bitch of various kinds and sees herself as a sinner in need of redemption. She is still haunted by the small-town politics, and the betrayal of a best friend that ended in a suicide. This is a place of dark secrets, of things not quite said, of horribleness. It is a place of both allegedly ‘respectable’ sorts and the rowdier Traveller community, getting involved in violent family feuds – a place that has been touched by the technology but not the social changes of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

    So it is depressing, but also beautifully written and observed; the dialect is particularly strong and Melody, for all that she might be viewed as an unsympathetic heroine, is shockingly real and relatable.” CLAIRE HENNESSEY

  18. Lilliput Press

    “Donal has to be one of Ireland’s best writers.” SEAMUS CULLEN

  19. Lilliput Press

    “A fine example of the best of Irish literature, characters drawn in fine and sympathetic detail, story line engaging. Irish culture captured on the page. If you read any of Donal Ryan’s books you will want to read them all.” EILEEN DIGHT

  20. Lilliput Press

    “The story flies along and his understanding of women is abnormal!! Actually I don’t have the words to say why this book is so good – just read it for yourself, it’s the best book I’ve read in ages, I highly recommend it. I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 because I think such a messed- up situation in real life wouldn’t all come together so neatly in the end. But the author is the best to emerge in years imo.” CHRISTINE G

  21. Lilliput Press

    “Fairly compact for a novel but it certainly packs a punch. Beautifully written, the central character is full of flaws and contradictions but yet compelling and full of pathos. What struck me most is the way the author was able to write about the hotchpotch of personalities in such a real and visceral way so much so that by the end you felt you knew them intimately. Ultimately, this is a story about the very human condition of making mistakes, regretting them, sacrifice and achieving a kind of imperfect redemption. This is a writer of immense talent.” CROMARTY FORTH TYNE

  22. Lilliput Press

    “This amazing small novel by Donal Ryan is another very impressive effort.
    Story-telling is of a very good quality, and all the characters come superbly to life within this astounding human tale.
    Human feelings and actions come very much to the forefront in this genuinely moving little story.
    The story is based in and around Limerick, Ireland, and the main character of this book is Melody Shee, who’s a thirty-three old woman, and she’s pregnant by 17-year old Martin Toppy, who’s a son of a famous Traveller, while being unhappily married to Pat.
    Another important characters are Mary Crothery, who’s also a Traveller and who’ll become her long lost friend and confidante, as a kind of substitute after the death of her former close friend Breedie Flynn, and there’s of course Melody’s aged widowed father.
    Melody doesn’t know what to do with her life and her pregnancy, and while being ignored, judged and threatened by family and many people in society, she’s starting to blame herself for her predicament hoping that her life will soon turn into something better.
    Only when Melody meets Mary Crothery, a young Traveller woman, it is she who will be the great help Melody needs in her life by showing that Melody’s life is worthwhile, and that wonderful help will turn into a very dear friendship between the two of them, and especially at the end of this truly breath-taking redemptive humane story there will be a surprising emotional turn of events concerning Melody’s baby boy.
    Really recommended, for this is a really moving story about a woman in trouble with her pregnancy, and she being blamed and shunned by all sides, especially her family, and it is finally someone, a stranger, with honest motives who will help her in coming to terms with her life, and that’s why I like to call this book: “A Humane Heartfelt Story”!” CLEMENS SCHOONDERWOERT

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Weight 0.5 kg
Dimensions 136 × 208 mm
Publication Date

16 September 2016



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