Johnsey Cunliffe is a young Tipperary man with a disability that has rendered him somewhat lumbering and, in everyone’s estimation (including his own), simple. Despite this, the third-person narrative voice casually slips into Johnsey’s thoughts and argot, and in doing so raises a question about whether he really is simple or merely naive and unable to communicate well. He considers himself a ‘spastic’, an ‘eejit’ and a ‘God-help-us’; he knows that his neighbours see him the same way. Even if they say something kind, ‘what they really meant was: Look, you’re a bit of a gom, so go on now and leave us to get on … Okay? Good lad. Go off upstairs now and say a few prayers or pull yourself or do whatever the hell it is imbeciles do in the confines of their own bedrooms.’ The other young men in his town bully him, the more so now that his strong, respected father is dead. Johnsey longs for a different life in which he is brave and charismatic, standing up to everyone instead of being cowed.
The Thing About December, Donal Ryan’s second published novel (which he actually wrote before his first, The Spinning Heart), is set in 2008, in a country on the brink of economic collapse. Johnsey misses ‘Daddy’, who was tender towards his weak son and good-humoured at home. His mother is still