The Spinning Heart - Donal Ryan

Genre: Irish Fiction/Culture
Synopsis: 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.


Review: I'd been putting off both of Donal's books for a while now, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps because so many people have been raving about them that I was almost afraid I wouldn't like them. I needed haven't worried about this one, anyway. Each short chapter of this novel is told from the perspective of a different character living in a small Irish town. Through the 20 or so characters, a picture of life for individual people from different backgrounds slowly builds up, while we also get a broader picture of social life in a small town and the knock on effects of the financial collapse.

Donal definitely has an ability to capture every type of Irish character there is - more than once I found myself smirking at the perfect depiction of a thoroughly Irish trait - such as one woman bitching endlessly about a co-worker/friend for an entire chapter, and then adding that sure she loves her anyway. Other aspects of the Irish psyche are captured in a state of turmoil - men confused by emotions they've been taught never to express, young people facing the uncertainty of emigration and undefined futures. The reason that I loved this book is that the characters are so authentically Irish. It's impressive that Donal can both evoke so many distinct personalities in one book and also that he can convey them in a single chapter apiece.

The reason I gave the book four stars, rather than five, is that while I admired the characterisation wrought in these short chapters, I did not like the myriad perspectives as a narrative device. The plot was largely obscured by all the voices, and a few times it took me longer than it probably should have to work out who people were referring to. The two main dramatic elements of the plot both seem somewhat unlikely, and fairly undramatic as a result of being indirectly depicted. However, while I didn't think much of the plot, my problems with it didn't detract too much from my enjoyment of the novel.

Definitely going to check out anything else he writes.

Rating: 4/5

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