The Spinning Heart

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The Waterstones Eleven 2013 Round Up – What Did I Think?

Published March 17, 2014 by bibliobeth

Waterstones 11 2013

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The eleven debut authors pictured above were chosen in 2013 to be part of The Waterstones Eleven, debut books that showed tremendous promise. Previous Waterstones Eleven members have included Rachel Joyce, whose debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was 2012’s best selling debut overall, and was even long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in the same year. It is also one of my favourite books of all time. The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen was part of the Richard and Judy Bookclub and also went on to win the Desmond Elliott prize.

As a result, I had quite high hopes for this group of authors and was looking forward to reading their work. For all my reviews on The Waterstones Eleven of 2013, please see my previous post HERE.

Instead of going through each of the books in turn, I’ve thought up some quick and snappy questions that will hopefully summarise all of the books in this challenge and how I felt about them.

Favourite book on list? Why?

It’s a choice between two. Y by Marjorie Celona and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. The first book was written so beautifully I didn’t want it to end but was also quite harrowing and insightful at points. Burial Rites is based on a true story of the last woman to be executed in Iceland. Again, some fantastic writing and a story that stays with you long after you’ve finished the book. I visited Iceland recently and was pleased to confirm that the author did a perfect job in describing the country and the sense of desolation in some parts, like you are the only person in the world.

Least favourite book on list? Why?

I think it would have to be Ballistics by D.W. Wilson. I just didn’t get on with this book at all and made myself finish it for the sake of this challenge. The writing is excellent and I can see why the author is part of the Waterstones Eleven, but unfortunately it wasn’t my kind of book.

Book that surprised me the most? Why?

I’m going to go for The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan purely because of the style of writing and all the connections between the characters which definitely deserves a second read if only to join up all the dots. It is told in 21 short chapters, each chapter being a different voice in a small Irish community yet no voice is repeated. It wasn’t what I was expecting when I began the novel, (in a good way!) and completely deserved its long-listing for the Man Booker Prize last year.

Strangest book on list? Why?

The award for the strangest book on the list has to be Pigs Foot by Carlos Acosta. For a debut novel, it was very accomplished and I can see what the author was trying to do. Overall, I enjoyed it, but some of the fantastical elements were a bit difficult to get through. However, I loved reading about the history of Cuba and thought the author presented it very well.

 Author I would be willing to “give another go?” Why?

Without a doubt it would be author of The Fields – Kevin Maher. I thought that the story in this book was immensely powerful and enjoyed the style of writing but was slightly disappointed by the ending which seemed to go off on a sort of tangent. I was also lucky enough to listen to Kevin in person being interviewed at the Hay Festival in 2013, and he came across as very likeable and talented. I will definitely be watching out for his next book.

Author with the most promise? Why?

Again, it is between two books the first being Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. The writing in this book was extraordinary, poetic and beautiful and she is definitely one to watch out for in the future – a potential Man Booker winner perhaps? The second is the author of The Universe Versus Alex Woods – Gavin Extence. A brilliant, unique story that just begs for a sequel.

Book that had a lasting effect on me? Why?

The Son by Michel Rostain is a powerful and moving novel about a man’s grief when his son dies. It was even more powerful to think that this novel was based on what had actually happened to the author himself. It was emotional to read and I still think of it occasionally months later.

I really enjoyed taking the Waterstones Eleven challenge, and found some great books and new authors. Hopefully you now feel inspired to check some of them out yourself!

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):


WWW Wednesday #20

Published October 16, 2013 by bibliobeth

WWW Wednesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Click on the image to get to her blog!

It’s that time again… WWW Wednesday. Thanks as ever to MizB at Should Be Reading for hosting.

To join in you need to answer 3 questions..

•What are you currently reading?

•What did you recently finish reading?

•What do you think you’ll read next?

Click on the book covers to take you to a link to find out more!

What are you currently reading?


This book is part of the British Empire Challenge 2013 that I’m participating in as part of a bookclub, Bright Young Things. It’s started promisingly so far!

What did you recently finish reading?


I finished this book within a day, it was such an easy read. I had a couple of niggles about it, and my review will be up shortly!

What do you think you’ll read next?:


I’m looking forward to this one – it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year, and is part of the Waterstones Eleven debut authors which I am also following this year.

What are you reading? Please feel free to leave your link and I’ll come and have a look! Happy Reading Everyone!

Man Booker Prize Longlist 2013 Announced

Published July 27, 2013 by bibliobeth

I try to keep up to date with literary happenings, and the Man Booker Prize is one of my favourites. I am currently in the middle of trying to get through all of the previous Man Booker winners and enjoying the challenge. So here are the 13 books longlisted from the 151 eligible.

Five Star Billionaire Tash Aw (Fourth Estate)
We Need New Names NoViolet Bulawayo (Chatto & Windus)
The Luminaries Eleanor Catton (Granta)
Harvest Jim Crace (Picador)
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman Eve Harris (Sandstone Press)
The Kills Richard House (Picador)
The Lowland Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury)
Unexploded Alison MacLeod ( Hamish Hamilton)
TransAtlantic Colum McCann (Bloomsbury)
Almost English Charlotte Mendelson (Mantle)
A Tale for the Time Being Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
The Spinning Heart Donal Ryan (Doubleday Ireland)
The Testament of Mary Colm Tóibín (Viking)
My first thoughts are that there is quite a mixture of established authors and cultures (Colm Toibin, Tash Aw, Colum McCann), and some new faces, including Donal Ryan, whose book The Spinning Heart I recognise as being part of the Waterstones Eleven Debut Authors to watch out for this year. Robert Macfarlane, this year’s chair of judges, said: “This is surely the most diverse longlist in Man Booker history: wonderfully various in terms of geography, form, length and subject. These 13 outstanding novels range from the traditional to the experimental, from the first century AD to the present day, from 100 pages to 1,000, and from Shanghai to Hendon.” The judges will meet again in September to choose a shortlist,  and the winner of the £50,000 prize will be named on the 15th of October.
Hmm… I think I’m going to enjoy researching this further…
For more information, please see the Man Booker website HERE.