The Spinning Heart


I’m reading “The Spinning Heart” by Donal Ryan – a new voice in contemporary Irish fiction. This novel was named Book of the Year in 2012 at the Irish Book Awards. It is not an easy read. There’s some getting used to the rural Irish dialects, and the circumstances of the main characters are as heart wrenching as any of Frank McCourt’s. Ryan renders his characters’ stories in deeply personal detail and carefully interweaves their experiences in their rural village like ivy climbing a rock wall. He captures not only the language but the spirit of these people and the land they’re devoted to.

Written in 2010, Ryan’s story unfolds in the present and illustrates the real human cost of the Great Recession that followed the dizzying Celtic Tiger era in modern Ireland. Each chapter is the story of different character, 21 in all, and as each voice speaks there’s a palpable tension between their public selves and the internal life they so desperately try to keep in check. Through each set of eyes, the reader sees the others, often in stark contrast to how the characters see themselves. Each one redefines themselves in the wake of the quick, painful downturn in the Irish economy. Each one suffers the indignities that the greed of the politicians and developers wreaked.

Ryan grew up in the western region of Ireland and lives outside of Limerick City. I’m hopeful that while I am in Limerick this summer, I might have a chance to hear him read. His second novel is due to be published this autumn.


One comment on “The Spinning Heart

  1. sugareeblog says:

    I finished the novel today, snowed in here in St. Louis in late March. This story carried its plot lines forward cleverly. Their dialects became second nature and I could almost hear these voices change with each new perspective. Their connections were important and Ryan used release of information to his advantage. The crimes he revealed, large and small, and the way the characters’ pain carried forward generationally, were deftly intertwined. At times, I felt Ryan showed too much. But by the last page I understood why he crafted the details as he did. He gave The Crash its due.

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