Irish Literature

All posts in the Irish Literature category

The Spinning Heart – Donal Ryan

Published October 22, 2013 by bibliobeth

The Spinning Heart

What’s it all about?:

In the aftermath of Ireland’s financial collapse, dangerous tensions surface in an Irish town. As violence flares, the characters face a battle between public persona and inner desires. Through a chorus of unique voices, each struggling to tell their own kind of truth, a single authentic tale unfolds.

The Spinning Heart speaks for contemporary Ireland like no other novel. Wry, vulnerable, all-too human, it captures the language and spirit of rural Ireland and with uncanny perception articulates the words and thoughts of a generation. Technically daring and evocative of Patrick McCabe and J.M. Synge, this novel of small-town life is witty, dark and sweetly poignant.

What did I think?:

This book first came to my attention when it was chosen to be part of the Waterstones Eleven 2013, eleven debut authors who Waterstones predict big things for, please see my previous post HERE. Since then it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year (unfortunately, it did not make the shortlist), and has won other literary awards including The Sunday Independent Newcomer of The Year in 2012. The story is told in 21 short chapters, each chapter being told by a different voice in a small Irish community, each voice is only heard once but they are all individually unique in their personalities – a tough asking but one I think the author pulls off beautifully. Our story revolves around a man called Bobby Mahon, who is foreman at a building firm managed by Pokey Burke. The recession hits Ireland with a bang, and Pokey disappears into thin air after his firm goes bust, without having paid any of his workers National Insurance stamps or pensions. Understandably, there are a lot of angry people around, and after we hear Bobby’s story in the first chapter, we learn that every character is involved with him in some manner, and that they have been wounded or affected by the recession. The spinning heart of the novel is a physical object which hangs from Bobby’s fathers garden gate, and I think is also a metaphor for Bobby himself, as the moral centre of the story from which everything revolves.

The author’s use of different voices is both beautiful and poignant as we hear from a variety of individuals, from Lily (the “village bike”), to a young child, a single mother, and men who have worked for Pokey Burke and are desperately unhappy with the lot that they have been left i.e. nothing. Ryan writes the novel in the Irish voice, using the regional slang, which only adds to the authenticity of the novel in my opinion. This story is not just about the economic crash however, love, violence, a kidnapping and murder is also present which brings a sense of surprise and intrigue into what the reader is going to learn next. The dark humour connected with the Irish is also present, much to my delight, and I loved how the gossipmongers of the village are referred to as the “Teapot Taliban.” Favourite parts? Too many to discuss! Bobby’s strained relationship with his father is insightful and destructive, and he often mentions wishing for his death – this is important later on in the novel for a gripping twist that leaves the reader unable to put the book down, desperate to know how it is going to turn out. The following quote is a particular favourite of mine that completely spoke to me on a personal level:

“I’ll never forgive him for the sulking, though, and the killing sting of his tongue. He ruined every day of our lives with it… Sober, he was a watcher, a horror of a man who missed nothing and commented on everything. Nothing was ever done right or cooked right or said right or bought right or handed to him properly…. We couldn’t breathe right in a room with him. We couldn’t talk freely or easily.”

By the end of the novel, the characters and setting feel so familiar, it is almost like you are reading about people you know, and it is a certainty that we have all come across the colourful and more eccentric characters in our own lives. The only one problem I have with this book is that we only hear the voices once – and interestingly we never hear from Pokey Burke, who seems to have vanished into thin air. I would have loved to hear more about the characters, especially Bobby, who I think would have benefited from a short excerpt at the end, so the reader could analyse his thoughts and feelings after certain events in the story have played out. However, this is a fantastic debut novel, a worthy Booker long-lister, and I can’t wait to see what the author does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0