An old man looks into the fearful eyes of a burglar left to guard him while his brother is beaten; an Irish priest in a war-torn Syrian town teaches its young men the art of hurling; the driver of a car which crashed, killing a teenage girl, forges a connection with the girl’s mother; a squad of broken friends assemble to take revenge on a rapist; a young man sets off on his morning run, reflecting on the ruins of his relationship, but all is not as it seems.
Donal Ryan’s short stories pick up where his acclaimed novels The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December left off, dealing with the human cost of loneliness, isolation and displacement. Sometimes this is present in the ordinary, the mundane; sometimes it is triggered by a fateful encounter or a tragic decision. At the heart of these stories, crucially, is how people are drawn to each other and cling on to love, often in desperate circumstances.
In haunting and often startling prose, Donal Ryan has captured the brutal beauty of the human heart in all its hopes and failings.
"Donal Ryan’s ambition is to evoke the marginal or washed-up existences of people in a global but very non-metropolitan Ireland as the 21st century dawns. . . . He channels their voices with consummate ventriloquism . . . Ryan’s ear for an authentically crackling colloquialism is as sharp as ever. . . . Ryan’s skill with language flicks out slang and abuse with a masterly touch . . . his ear is sharply attuned and his sense of irony remains mordant."
"Donal Ryan, one of our most remarkable writers, has produced a book of short stories of such visceral power that they hit you in the solar plexus. He deals with the dark side of modern Irish life and produces sentences of titanic impact."
"Outstanding stories . . . There's a bracing - indeed, sometimes saving - humour . . . and there's a tenderness, too, towards many of the collection's lost souls. . . . Ryan is already such a master of the short form that even when you dread the outcome, you can't stop reading."
"Donal Ryan is a heartbreaker, his quicksilver prose laced with . . . wistful rhythms . . . These breathtaking stories explore human love against an uneasy landscape of violence and desperation. . . . Donal finds hope in dark corners. 'Sky' [is] a story about everything - life, loss and loneliness - but also just about one man's love for his nephew. [The title story's] gentle and redemptive ending leaves you gaping with wonder."
"Donal Ryan is a master of the magnetic first line. . . . His faithful subject is rural despair; the poetry of adversity, the baffling fortitude of intrinsically decent people. . . . These are plain-speaking stories, and in spite of the pervasive woe, this plain speech lends itself to blunt, bleak, brilliant humour. . . . Each unit of language has been scrupulously positioned, though the overall effect is of effortlessness. . . . This collection shows Ryan adding his own elastic yet distinctive voice to O’Connor’s impeccable tradition."
We’ve gathered some of our favourite contemporary Irish love stories for you to curl up with. Whether you’re looking for family drama, or timeless love, we’ve got the perfect book.
Donal Ryan explains how his long ago encounter with a Traveller fortune teller inspired his latest novel, All We Shall Know