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.