Wednesday 10 April 2024

Ryan, Donal "The Thing About December"


Ryan, Donal "The Thing About December" - 2013

This was our international online book club book for March 2024.

I think I expected something different from this book. Something typical for Northern Ireland, I guess. Well, this could have taken place anywhere. The story was not especially well told or exciting in any way.

A boy with some kind of mental illness is left orphaned and inherits his parents' farm. The village wants him to sell it because then they all can make a large profit. There are some bullies in the village but he also makes a friend. That's it in a nutshell. However, I couldn't get any interesting access to the story, it was way too boring for me.

Just not my thing.

Comments from the group:

I did not like it.

I kept having this bad feeling, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I had hoped I would somehow end up rooting for the protagonist, but because of his attitude I couldn't even properly do that. 

What I did enjoy about the book was the picture it painted of a particular place and time in Ireland, and can definitely see why it won a fair amount of local prizes. 

If this book were written with the exact same story, but placed for example in Africa, it would be hauling in big international literary prizes, because this type of stories of the unfortunate seems to me like flypaper to flies for people from the first world, while I feel "we" get uncomfortable when reading about poverty and unfortunate events and people closer to home.

In Finland there has been a fair amount of these types of times, that are just not reported on much, with extreme high suicide rates and starvation (for example the economy crash in the 90s and after WWII when russia was pretty much blackmailing Finland for "retribution payments" to get an excuse to invade if we couldnt keep paying, and the infighting and murdering after WWI.) So there is a fair amount of Finnish literature on similar topic, that I personally avoid.

There is a sub-genre of literature called "looser literature" in Finland, where the protagonist like in this book are victims of their circumstance in life and a difficult character to like because of learned attitudes, while at the same time causing one to feel sorry for him. One member has read a lot of this type of books, so had a lot of comparison points and thoughts about society's stance on these kinds of individuals.

From the back cover:

"While the Celtic Tiger rages, and greed becomes the norm, Johnsey Cunliffe desperately tries to hold on to the familiar, even as he loses those who all his life have protected him from a harsh world. Village bullies and scheming land-grabbers stand in his way, no matter where he turns.

Set over the course of one year of Johnsey’s life,
The Thing About December breathes with his grief, bewilderment, humour and agonizing self-doubt. This is a heart-twisting tale of a lonely man struggling to make sense of a world moving faster than he is."


  1. I think from the back cover I would have been interested to read this one. Don't you hate that when a book sounds good but doesn't resonate with expectations. I did a DNF on Tana French's book this month ...I love her but this latest series doesn't grab me.

    1. I had that same feeling, Tina. I thought it might be interesting. But the writing was quite boring, to be honest.
      And yes, I definitely hate that. It's even worse if it's one of your favourite authors. How terrible. I hope the next book by her will be to your liking again.

    2. Agreed, it's terrible if you preorder a book a book by afavorite and you don't like it. Fortunately I did not do that with Tana French. What I need to do is make a concerted effort to read the books on my Kindle and what is in the house. So hard when good books come out at the library or I get good suggestions from book bloggers!

    3. That is indeed a big problem. We all suffer from that. LOL

  2. Does not sound like my thing either.

    1. I'm sure it isn't, Lisbeth. We have so many authors we like in commong, I guess we can also recommend which books not to read. Like this one.

  3. I can understand why women feel disgusted by this book from the point of view of evolutionary psychology. Women harshly rate men based on their social status and sociodynamic dominance to priorize spending time with men with decent genes to offer for their offspring.

    The protagonist had neither ability to even assist in control of social situations (f.ex. the scene where he couldn't help when his father was assaulted in a hospital) nor the respect of anyone around him. Still, he was openly sexualizing women around him.

    This female way of rating of men was also visible in Marianne's liking of Measuring the World, where the male protagonists were witty, adventurous, industrious, respected, famous and from good backgrounds.

    The December book could have been shorter but it captured well the quintessentially male feeling of quiet desperation, taken over the top for dramatic effect as is common in fiction. It is easier to identify with the protagonist if you have lived several years in the countryside surrounded by uneducated people.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Simo.
      I was not disgusted by this book and I didn't dislike it because of the protagonist, it was just badly written and badly described. I don't know how you got the idea that it was all about gender.
      I expected a Northern Ireland book like Say Nothing about their specific problems. And this was definitely not it. But that might have been alright if the writing had been better, it was more higgledy-piggledy, made no sense at times. I felt sorry for Johnsey, didn't feel what you think I felt.
      If anything, I thought the book was too short, could have been more detailed, maybe would have been easier to understand.
      And I have grown up in the countryside.
      You mention Measuring the World. That was a book about two real-life scientists, Humboldt and Gauss, both names known world-wirde. And it was well-written.
      But thanks for your input, that was also very interesting.