Winner - The Guardian First Book Award
Winner of two Irish Book Awards - Newcomer of The Year and Book of The Year
Longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize
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.
Donal Ryan's brilliantly realized debut announces a stunning new voice in fiction.
©2012 Donal Ryan (P)2013 Steerforth Press LLC
"Irish author Ryan's debut takes readers to the 'heart' of hardscrabble life in Ireland in the era after the economic boom and bust of 2008. The novel received Book of the Year honors at the Irish Book Awards.... Reminiscent of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, this book gives readers a story—or rather stories—told from multiple perspectives, each chapter using a different voice. . . . Disturbing and unnerving but ultimately beautiful." (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)
"The recession has hit rural Ireland, and 'the sky is falling down." Through 21 different voices, Donal Ryan's virtuoso debut novel pieces together a fractured portrait of a community in shock. . . . What is so special about Ryan's novel is that it seems to draw speech out of the deepest silences; the testimony of his characters rings rich and true – funny and poignant and banal and extraordinary – and we can't help but listen." (The Guardian)
"Wayne Farrell's gifted voice and captivating Irish brogue are mesmerizing.... Farrell is so versatile that listeners may sometimes think they're hearing a full-cast recording.... There are times when a narrator enhances a book, and there are times like this when he makes it." (AudioFile)
If you are looking for one of those uplifting stories full of Irish resourcefulness, indomitability, and bleak humor, you had best look elsewhere. While 'The Spinning Heart' has a few bright moments, overall, it's what I'd call a downer. Ryan tells the story of an economically depressed small town through the distinctive voices of 21 of its inhabitants, each of whom is given a chapter of his or her own in which to comment on the neighbors and their business as well as recent events in the town, most notably the collapse of a local building company whose owner first wiped out his workers' pensions, the disappearance of a small child from a care center, and the arrest of the local golden boy, Bobby Mahon, for the murder of his father. Everyone has his or her own point of view, depending in large part upon their own history with the novel's major players, Bobby Mahon, Pokey Burke (the construction business owner), and Realtin (the single mother of the missing child). What they all have in common is an oppressive sadness, tinged with anger, and a prevailing sense that life is just not fair. Added to this, well, these just aren't very nice folks. Fathers mock their children (when they aren't beating them), bosses rip off their employees, husbands cheat on their wives (when they aren't beating them) and beat up the women they cheat with, children are fearful of their parents' constant quarreling, friends confess to being jealous of one another--well, you get the picture. Hence the "downer" label.
Still and all, I have to give Ryan the technical high marks he has earned. He has created 21 distinctive voices for his 21 characters, ranging from a little girl of about four or five to a number of elderly men and women. And while the town he creates is not one I'd willingly visit, he brings it sharply into view. These stories could veer off into multiple digressions; in fact, sometimes they do. But each returns to the main themes: the essential hopelessness wrought by the economic downturn and, despite their shared experiences, the emotional isolation of the townsfolk. Themes that are depressing, yes; but Ryan skillfully builds his plot around them.
On the title: some have speculated that the rusty, paint-chipped spinning heart set into the Mahon's gate represents the ongoing love these people have for one another in troubled times. I don't see that. For me, the heart spins as we would say "he's spinning his wheels"--it's furious, agitated, spinning, but it really doesn't move. This isn't Eliot's "still point in the turning world." It's stagnation: hearts skewered, stuck on anger and despair.
Wayne Farrell was an excellent reader. It's not easy to make each voice unique, especially since they all have Irish accents--but he manages to do just that.
This is a searing look at the economic collapse in Ireland through its effects on the lives of individuals. Creative, different and totally absorbing. The reader is first-rate as well and intensifies the emotional punches.
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