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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. 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.


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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. 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.

30 review for The Spinning Heart

  1. 4 out of 5

    karen

    this book won "book of the year" at the irish book awards in 2012. if james joyce had published every single book he had ever written in 2012, this book still would have won. hi, i'm karen - i make bold declarative statements. welcome. this book is a stunner. like Broken Harbour, it speaks to the devastating economic and social climate in ireland after the death of the celtic tiger. in this particular, unnamed, small town, when the local construction company goes out of business and its owner ski this book won "book of the year" at the irish book awards in 2012. if james joyce had published every single book he had ever written in 2012, this book still would have won. hi, i'm karen - i make bold declarative statements. welcome. this book is a stunner. like Broken Harbour, it speaks to the devastating economic and social climate in ireland after the death of the celtic tiger. in this particular, unnamed, small town, when the local construction company goes out of business and its owner skips town without paying his workers their wages, it is just one factor contributing to a series of events that will ultimately end in kidnapping and murder. this book captures small-town life perfectly. it is told in a chorus of voices, where each chapter is narrated (in dialect ♥) by a single character, and through their individual voices, we see a whole tapestry of resentments, ambitions, yearning, grief, admiration - the shared, embarrassed past and the shining, small-scale heroes. it is so deftly handled in such a short book - it is nothing short of astonishing. it is funny, it is sad, it is dark, it is a scattershot of singular, lonely existences that make up this heartbreaking jewel of a novel. but there is a story here - it is not just a collection of experiences, it just happens to be narrated by a number of different people and perspectives, some unreliable, for sure, but the interlocking bits do make up a cohesive story. it is gripping, it is wonderful, and i cannot wait to read more from him. come to my blog!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Predicament The Spinning Heart is an outstanding book that vividly portrays the damage the financial crisis had on people’s lives in Ireland while elevating our reading experience to such wonderful heights with beautiful poetic writing. “There’s a red metal heart in the centre of the low front gate, skewered on a rotating hinge. It’s flaking now; the red is nearly gone. It needs to be scraped and sanded and painted and oiled. It still spins in the wind, though. I can hear it creak, creak, cre Predicament The Spinning Heart is an outstanding book that vividly portrays the damage the financial crisis had on people’s lives in Ireland while elevating our reading experience to such wonderful heights with beautiful poetic writing. “There’s a red metal heart in the centre of the low front gate, skewered on a rotating hinge. It’s flaking now; the red is nearly gone. It needs to be scraped and sanded and painted and oiled. It still spins in the wind, though. I can hear it creak, creak, creak as I walk away. A flaking, creaking, spinning heart.” Often in moments of hardship you find humour, and Donal Ryan weaves the light and dark of a community dealing with a local murder and the hardships of life during the economic crash in Ireland in 2008. The collapse of the economy and in particular the construction industry was catastrophic. Building companies went bust, leaving builders, suppliers and tradesmen massively in debt as each had extended their credit with banks for greater and greater rewards. Ghost estates of houses in various states of completeness littered the country. Exactly the scene that anchor’s Donal’s book. The structure of the book is told chapter by chapter in the first person from an array of 21 notable and flawed characters, collectively showing the diversity that exists in a rural Irish community. The image and persona of each character is magically brought to life with wonderful impact. The central character and soul of the novel, is Bobby Mahon, a foreman on a building site owned by Pokey Burke. Following the collapse, Pokey absconded leaving huge debts and his now unemployed former workers are left dazed by the fact that he hadn’t been paying corporation tax or the income tax and insurance contributions for his employees. There is an uneasy despairing acceptance from many of the characters and a harsh ruminating atmosphere is maintained as we journey through the narrative. Many of the voices carry the connection with Bobby through their own tales; some knowing and admiring him, some recognising his presence from a distance. The wonderful touches of personality that each character paints of the community draws us an amazing picture of life and its hardships, the complexion of the people and how they always find a way to keep going no matter how broken their lives become. What I found very emotional and heartbreaking were the moments in the narrative where we come to appreciate how damaging a person can be to a wife, husband, son, daughter, friend or neighbour without specifically meaning it, but due to being selfish or stubborn or uncompromising, how they can affect the lives of others, especially those closest to them. Bobby blames his father for the darkest most destructive aspects of his life. “My father still lives back down the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in. I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down. He hasn’t missed a day of letting me down.” This is an exceptional book, devastating, compelling and resonates with many communities. Donal Ryan writes with great humanity and honesty, as his rotation through his characters brings life to a village managing goodness, badness and murder. The complexity of perspectives and whispering dialogue is astounding. I highly recommend this book and I'm not surprised it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013 as his debut book. Additional Book Ratings Cover Design: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Title: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Proofreading Success: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Quality of Book Formatting: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Book Format/Status: Hardback/Released Illustrations: N/A Number of Pages: 156 Number of Chapters: 21 (approx 7 pages per chapter)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    The Tragic Demise of the Spinning Heart Who killed the heart? I, said the land owner, With greed for more kroner I killed the heart. Who watched it die? I, said the developer, With large loans of guilder I watched it die. Who caught its blood I, said the builder, With poor bricks and timber, I caught its blood. Who’ll make the shroud? I, said the sub-contractor, With unpaid bills to factor, I’ll make the shroud. Who'll dig the grave? I, said the banker, With broad smiles and thankya' I'll dig the grave. Who'll be th The Tragic Demise of the Spinning Heart Who killed the heart? I, said the land owner, With greed for more kroner I killed the heart. Who watched it die? I, said the developer, With large loans of guilder I watched it die. Who caught its blood I, said the builder, With poor bricks and timber, I caught its blood. Who’ll make the shroud? I, said the sub-contractor, With unpaid bills to factor, I’ll make the shroud. Who'll dig the grave? I, said the banker, With broad smiles and thankya' I'll dig the grave. Who'll be the clerk? I, said the regulator with my faulty calculator, I'll be the clerk. Who'll be the parson? I, said the deputy, With my land and property, I'll be the parson. Who'll be chief mourner? We, said the people Who elected the deputies, We’ll be chief mourners. All the towns in the land Felt a great stinging smart, when they heard of the death Of the poor spinning heart. That's my version of the moral at the heart of this book: Donal Ryan's tale offers a nicely paced allegorical explanation for the demise of the Celtic Tiger, that decade of borrowing and building that left Ireland with a rash of half completed apartment blocks, a pox of unpaid debts and a severe bout of unemployment. The story is spun out in a small rural town where the local building contractor has absconded leaving an uncompleted housing development and many debts to workers, suppliers and would-be home owners. Things can only get worse. Ryan tells the story from multiple points of view; the group of townspeople most directly concerned with the events each take their turn to give their version. The author has succeeded in giving them all distinctly different voices but the piece that worked best from a writing point of view was the opening section in the voice of Bobby Mahon, the section from which the powerful spinning heart image comes. I'll be curious to read other writing by this gifted author. I apologise for the feeble quality of the rhyme - it's not my strong point but the Who killed Cock Robin question/answer pattern fits the structure of this story perfectly. As in the rhyme, everyone in The Spinning Heart has a role to play in the events of the story and there is a lot of sighing and sobbing by the end.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nat K

    "It's a strange dichotomy, so it is; feeling and knowing; the feeling feels truer that the knowing of its falseness." It's hard to read a book by an Irish writer and not be reading it with an Irish accent in your head. Or maybe just that's just me. This book blew me away. The deftness with which the stories are pulled together the further you delve into the book is astonishing. Is this a novella? At a pinch I'd say it squeezes into that mold. Each chapter of this book is told from the perspective o "It's a strange dichotomy, so it is; feeling and knowing; the feeling feels truer that the knowing of its falseness." It's hard to read a book by an Irish writer and not be reading it with an Irish accent in your head. Or maybe just that's just me. This book blew me away. The deftness with which the stories are pulled together the further you delve into the book is astonishing. Is this a novella? At a pinch I'd say it squeezes into that mold. Each chapter of this book is told from the perspective of twenty-one people. From women, to men, children, the elderly and even the ghost of a recently departed, tell their story. Each adding their piece of the jigsaw puzzle of life in a small county in Ireland. Through their thoughts and ramblings, we're painted a picture of the trying times they're living through. The impression I have from this story is one of tiredness. A tired country with tired people trying to make ends meet. They're generally dissatisfied with their lot. And who can blame them? The economy is a mess. Jobs are hard to come by. Many are left high & dry by bosses doing the midnight flit to sunnier climes, leaving them with months of unpaid wages. While others are being ripped off to do more work for less money, the logic being they should be "grateful" to have any job at all. It's no wonder there's so much angst going on. And bitterness, that will be paid for dearly. "I'm owed a small fortune. The sky is falling down." There are themes of mental health and violence, as the characters struggle to make sense of their lives, and life in general. "I never told anyone about the blackness I feel sometimes, weighing me down and making me think things I don't want to think." Despite all this, as is the way of the world, there is also lust, longing and love. From fledgling relationships, to relationships gone wrong, to comfortable love, we're right there with them, inside the characters' heads. "There's something unspeakable about the attraction between a man and a woman. It can't ever be explained." I loved how the more chapters you read, that you got a fuller perspective of events that each of the characters is describing. A 360 degree perspective. It's beautifully done. I felt quite sad reading this book. So many of the characters made such insightful observations about both themselves and the world around them, it made me catch my breath. And my heart ache. But there are also humorous moments (dark as they are). Blink, and you'll miss them. I found it difficult to write a coherent review, as there is just so much going on in it. So many tangents, so many stories. This is a solid 4.5★s for me. I've found another favourite writer in Donal Ryan. I'm looking forward to catching up with more of his books. *** Buddy read with the fabulous Collin. Make sure you check out his review, it's far more coherent than mine. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... *** I love that the story ended with Bobby & Triona. It gave me hope 💗 "Tears spilled down his face. I just said oh love; oh love, what matters now? What matters only love?"

  5. 4 out of 5

    Maciek

    The Spinning Heart is the debut of Irish novelist Donal Ryan, and a good one. Although the book was rejected dozens of times by various publishing houses, when it finally appeared in print it found not only an audience, but also appreciation - it won the Guardian First Book Award and was longlisted for the Booker prize. I can see the appeal - The Spinning Heart is a touching, beautiful book, but one that ultimately falls victim to its own structure and theme. The Spinning Heart is set in a small The Spinning Heart is the debut of Irish novelist Donal Ryan, and a good one. Although the book was rejected dozens of times by various publishing houses, when it finally appeared in print it found not only an audience, but also appreciation - it won the Guardian First Book Award and was longlisted for the Booker prize. I can see the appeal - The Spinning Heart is a touching, beautiful book, but one that ultimately falls victim to its own structure and theme. The Spinning Heart is set in a small town in rural Ireland, hit hard by the recession after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger. Local residents have been particularly affected, after the construction company - the town's main employer - closes down, and the owner moves away without giving his workers their pay. Unemployment is rampant, leading to growing violence and alcoholism, along with all sorts of tensions rising in depressed families. The eponymous spinning heart is a symbolic metal heart, set in the gate of a local house - a symbolic heart, ever spinning in the wind, but never going anywhere. The novel is formed of 21 short chapters, each narrated by a different character, most of whom know and often speak of one another - after all most of them spend their lives in the same small town. Donal Ryan's writing is lyrical and poetic, allowing us to not only glimpse the character's lives and feelings in just a few pages, but to grow to care for them. There are many beautiful excerpts to choose from - Bobby Mahon, a man who grew with a cruel father and was powerless to stop him from abusing his mother, whom he loved; Vasya, an immigrant from the far east of Siberia, who speaks little English and yet connects with his new country and its people. My personal favorite has to be Lily - an old woman, remembering her past relationships with various men of the town, and mourning loss of connection with her different children, especially John - her last, youngest son. John didn't admit his mother to his graduation, even though she scraped and saved to send him to the university; his eyes are already aimed at other women, other cities. I love my children like a swallow loves a blue sky; I have no choice in the matter. I cry over them in the dark of night. I often wake up calling their names. Lily's loneliness is deep, palpable and touching. Yet for all its merit The Spinning Heart suffers from a fundamental flaw - too much of a good thing. After reading chapter after chapter of characters beaten by life, we lose sight of who's who; we start to mix up their names and events from their lives. Wht began as beautifully drawn and presented vignettes starts being tiring, and the effect is that of overbearing. There are characters in this novel who could have had whole books dedicated just to them - they made that strong impression on me in just a few pages; but this impression became lost as I read on, and witnessed another tragedy, another failure. I can;t blame Donal Ryan for being ambitious and compassionate toward his subjects - I wish he focused his talent on fewer strong points, instead of spreading it too thing. This is not to say that The Spinning Heart is not worth reading - it certainly is, and might be the first work of a new talent. But the structure that Donal Ryan chose for this work only allows for so much - hopefully he will write more novels, and will give his ability and skill enough space to truly flourish.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kinga

    I didn’t think I would enjoy this novel, or rather novella. I’m wary of those 160 page books; they often seem so lazy in execution, like something the writer just phoned in. You know, you start and immediately you get, ekhm, the sense of an ending. Additionally, the cover of ‘The Spinning Heart’ looked dangerously close to Alan Hollinghurst ‘The Line of Beauty’, so I expected the book to be half-assed and derivative, as well as full of bleakness steeped in alcohol (it being an Irish book). As you I didn’t think I would enjoy this novel, or rather novella. I’m wary of those 160 page books; they often seem so lazy in execution, like something the writer just phoned in. You know, you start and immediately you get, ekhm, the sense of an ending. Additionally, the cover of ‘The Spinning Heart’ looked dangerously close to Alan Hollinghurst ‘The Line of Beauty’, so I expected the book to be half-assed and derivative, as well as full of bleakness steeped in alcohol (it being an Irish book). As you can see, I started reading this choice of my book club with my head full of misconceptions. I was so adamant in my prejudice that it wasn’t until somewhere halfway through when I finally admitted to myself that ‘The Spinning Heart’ was. in fact, quite wonderful, although there is a lot of bleakness steeped in alcohol, as it would be unavoidable in a book which takes place in rural Ireland in the wake of the financial crash. I honestly don’t know what Irish writers did during their country sudden and short-lived but amazing prosperity. No one wants to hear about that. Every tiny chapter of 'The Spinning Heart' is narrated by a different character who takes the stage to tell their story. All of them have their unique voices and personalities so Ryan’s narrative and characterization skills can't be faulted. The plot is interwoven with the stories so seamlessly that the characters never seem like props to push the plot along. They are definitely there to get something of their chests and are completely unaware of the little bits they drop in that let us know where the story is going. The book opens with Bobby’s chapter and we immediately paint him in our heads the way he sees himself – a rather average, morally flawed ‘culchie’. It’s only when we hear about him from other characters he grows in our eyes and eventually becomes a village hero. I absolutely loved putting different glasses on with every chapter and looking at the same community from a different vantage point. As usual, I did feel most for the obvious nutters (coincidentally – Telegraph’s reviewer identified three nutters. I only remember two. I missed a nutter?) ‘The Spinning Heart’ might be often bleak but it is also funny, tender and many other things and made me wonder how it was exactly possible for it to be so full and rich while being so short. It reads like a much longer book. And it’s cracking! I also think it could be beautifully adapted for stage.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Samadrita

    Don't get me wrong. It's not like I do not see why this slim novella has garnered such high praise from all corners. This is just another case of it's-not-the-book-it's-me. The rhetoric on depression, grief and some crushing personal tragedy that is harped on again and again grates on the nerves after a while. The meticulous use of the multiple person narrative to bring to life all the aspects of one character through the eyes of every one else, gets overshadowed by the trite nature of the theme Don't get me wrong. It's not like I do not see why this slim novella has garnered such high praise from all corners. This is just another case of it's-not-the-book-it's-me. The rhetoric on depression, grief and some crushing personal tragedy that is harped on again and again grates on the nerves after a while. The meticulous use of the multiple person narrative to bring to life all the aspects of one character through the eyes of every one else, gets overshadowed by the trite nature of the themes emphasized. And the fervent admirer of good prose and good metaphors that I am, all the crude imagery thrust on the reader page after page fuelled my annoyance to a great degree. 3 stars because this is a writer of merit who uses regionalisms to create a lifelike portrait of an Ireland under the cloud of recession and does so quite effectively. I'll look out for Ryan's future works.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    In The Spinning Heart, a small Irish town is suffering under the weight of the late 2000s economic bust that saw industry leave the country and the building boom come to a screeching halt. Unemployment is rampant. Alcohol use, always an issue in Ireland and Irish literature, is also rising. Ryan has chosen to present his portrait of the town and time through snapshots of town residents, spoken in their voices. Chief among them is Bobby Mahon, product of a rough home, but largely appreciated in t In The Spinning Heart, a small Irish town is suffering under the weight of the late 2000s economic bust that saw industry leave the country and the building boom come to a screeching halt. Unemployment is rampant. Alcohol use, always an issue in Ireland and Irish literature, is also rising. Ryan has chosen to present his portrait of the town and time through snapshots of town residents, spoken in their voices. Chief among them is Bobby Mahon, product of a rough home, but largely appreciated in the town. He grew up with a cruel father and a mother he loved who was powerless to stop the man. On visiting a friend's house for dinner he sees: "Their father was wiry and kind-looking. He had a lovely smile. He'd warm you with it. You knew there was nothing in him only good nature....It twisted my soul, the pleasure of that house, the warmth of it and the laughter; it was nearly unbearable to be there and to have half my mind filled with the chill and the gloom and the thick silence of our cottage." (loc 98) The writing throughout is excellent, often rough, occasionally lyrical. The most lyrical passage for me was an immigrant's view of the land, an unemployed worker from Siberia. "There is no flatness in this land. It is all small hills and hidden valleys. Birds sing that I cannot see; they hide in trees and fly in covered skies. The horizon is close and small. There is daily rain that makes the earth green. A short journey in any direction ends at the sea." (loc 308) Each person reveals another layer of the town's life as well as their own. Definitely recommended An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley for the purpose of an unbiased review.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Neale

    The best word to describe the relationship between Bobby and his father is toxic. Everyday Bobby travels back to the little cottage in which he grew up to check if his father is still alive, and everyday Bobby is disappointed to find that he is. There is a red metal heart in the centre of the gate to the cottage, rusted, paint flaking off, a metaphor for his father’s equally broken down heart. We find later in the book that his father had an eerily similar relationship with his own father. Irelan The best word to describe the relationship between Bobby and his father is toxic. Everyday Bobby travels back to the little cottage in which he grew up to check if his father is still alive, and everyday Bobby is disappointed to find that he is. There is a red metal heart in the centre of the gate to the cottage, rusted, paint flaking off, a metaphor for his father’s equally broken down heart. We find later in the book that his father had an eerily similar relationship with his own father. Ireland is still reeling from financial collapse and recession when Pokey Burke, Bobby’s boss, disappears owing Bobby and many others money and wages. Bobby was the foreman of a building crew, looked up to by the lads, but secretly lacking confidence and seeing himself as a coward, a failure, searching for reasons as to why his wife sticks by his side. Bobby is the dominant, central character in, for such a short novel, a massive cast of twenty-one. These character’s personal narratives are woven together to form the story that is The Spinning Heart. With all these characters, we can see the debilitating effects that a national crisis has on a small rural town. How the recession seems to amplify and exacerbate smaller personal problems. At times the town almost feels like a puzzle and each character an integral piece needed to piece together the overall story. Each piece or character will often have links to other characters and the reader may learn more about a character from another character’s perspective. This brings to the fore, a major theme of this novel. Misconception and how, with lack of information, or the prevalence of rumours, how easy it is to judge somebody erroneously. We bear witness to how these erroneous views can have drastic, fatal consequences, at the end of the book. As we approach the end of the book, the narratives tend to get darker, with a child abduction and a murder rocking the little town. Again, rumours and innuendo cloud the character’s perspectives as the culprits are sought after. Ryan returns to Bobby’s narrative at the end of the book and does a wonderful job of filling in the blanks and again showing us that time after time things are not what they seem, and how we confidently believe something to be how we perceive it may not be the correct perception at all. Wonderful debut. 4 stars. This was another buddy read with the wonderful Nat K and please stop and check out her review when she posts it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rae Meadows

    I was very impressed with this book as a project--a story of an Irish town after the financial collapse told through 21 different voices, one per chapter, none of them repeated. There's plenty of violence and sadness, but also some moments of goodness, and overall I really liked how the lens keeps shifting around the town for different perspectives on the same events. I struggled some with the dialect, and some of the voices/characters are much stronger than others. The Rory chapter I found parti I was very impressed with this book as a project--a story of an Irish town after the financial collapse told through 21 different voices, one per chapter, none of them repeated. There's plenty of violence and sadness, but also some moments of goodness, and overall I really liked how the lens keeps shifting around the town for different perspectives on the same events. I struggled some with the dialect, and some of the voices/characters are much stronger than others. The Rory chapter I found particularly poignant. A few I felt fell into cliche. (And the kidnap story line just seemed random) Although it wouldn't be as sexy of a conceit, I would have preferred hearing from some of the characters, particularly Bobby who is the novel's focus, more than once. The Spinning Heart is a very quick and compelling read though I'm not sure I connected with it as much as I might have given a different narrative device.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    This review originally appeared on my blog, Shoulda Coulda Woulda Books. The way we consume national cultures has always been fascinating to me. National identity as a pre-packaged product and lifestyle, national identity and history as a foundational rationale for political moves, this idea of a constructed identity somehow being “natural” or something that lives in our very alike bloodcells. (Man, did anyone else read that BBC study where some scientists triumphantly pointed out that the gene p This review originally appeared on my blog, Shoulda Coulda Woulda Books. The way we consume national cultures has always been fascinating to me. National identity as a pre-packaged product and lifestyle, national identity and history as a foundational rationale for political moves, this idea of a constructed identity somehow being “natural” or something that lives in our very alike bloodcells. (Man, did anyone else read that BBC study where some scientists triumphantly pointed out that the gene pool of the British Isles countries that had fought each other forever over their differences were, essentially, 99.9% exactly the same? I sent a lot of conveniently ignored emails on the day that thing came out.) Modern Irishness is definitely one of the most consumer-produced, artificial things that I’ve seen depicted in popular culture. I mean, St. Patrick’s Day is obviously the grossest and most extreme representation of the lot, but the other signs are familiar too. Green things, sad violin and tin whistle music, flannels and fishermen’s sweaters, dark farmers and darker pubs, lilting voices and people who don’t move their hands when they dance. And, having grown up amongst festivals of Irish nostalgia, I can promise you that I’ve spent many hours seeing just how genuine it feels to many people. And of course there’s a kernel of truth. Many of these things were real before they became a performative identity- or at least real enough that it counts. But it's hard not to feel like so much of the identity is a put-on, a self-perpetuating fantasy that makes tons of money off of echoes of memories of great-grandmothers and a longing for community, and a past. But this book deals with something that is undeniably real and true to the verifiable facts of the country, something that gives all the rest of the nonsense its power: Ireland’s history of defeat, miserable poverty and emigration. Sadly, that has been all too real, and continues to be so. The Spinning Heart is set just after the worldwide financial collapse in the late aughts and details how the breakdown of credit and business growth affected Ireland. He does this by telling a rotating tale of 21 different stories told by people connected together through a local village in the provinces and the jobs and families that surround them (many of them connected to one of the sketchy building companies that left ghost towns half built all over the country). There are a few stories that continue throughout the book, but for the most part, these act like somewhat interconnected short stories. Ryan makes each voice seem unique through a combination of the judicious use of dialect and specific Irish slang, a clear and usually quite sharp change of perspective each time, as well as a sensitively rendered rhythm of his words. His first-person point of view perspective was an excellent choice- this is the sort of story that needs the visceral, emotional, and yet inevitably quotidian reactions people are living with as they try to make sense of the disaster that has befallen them and their families. The stories are almost uniformly quite dark- as, I would imagine, you might expect when you’re inside the heads of a large group of people whose future and hope has been taken away from them. Even characters who are routinely held up as examples to the community spend most of their time thinking about killing their relatives, committing crimes and other forms of magical thinking that will get them out of this mess that is not at all of their own making. These are not, then, stories of the noble poor. No, Ryan does an excellent job of making them people, who are no better, or worse, as a group, than others. Many, many of them are small and petty. Others are not very bright. Still more are mean, gross, entitled or eternally complaining. But he also does a wonderfully heartbreaking job of making these people affect you anyway- because you see how they got that way, even if you only ever get hints of it. A passing familiarity with Ireland’s culture and history and a few words dropped, are, sadly, more than enough to give you the whole story. There’s all the repressive effects of prejudiced, isolated, powerful Catholicism here- still tearing rigid, disapproving parents apart from their children (especially the ones who ever make something of themselves, especially the ones who escape to the city). There’s the inevitable outcomes of a clearly ineffective education system, and an atmosphere where intelligence and success at school are viewed as something to be hidden, lest you get “above yourself” and think you’re better than anyone around you. (There’s a completely shattering scene where a child tells his father that he did well on a test at school, beaming at him and wanting congratulations and is beaten for the “sin of pride”.) And of course there’s the years and years of grinding poverty and unending work that sucks the life and soul out of everyone and gives their children lifelong grudges and hatreds that they pass on to their own children and so on down the line. The constant, open misogyny constantly shown towards women, where sex cannot be far from the conversation if they are ever mentioned at all. And of course the emigration. The emigration that had, miracle of all miracles, become actual immigration for a few years. It’s difficult to overstate what that would have meant to a country that has been forced to send its children away for generations in order to have a glimmer of a half of a chance of something. Their closest thing to hope has been to know they will never see their children again. And then there was immigration? I remember reading wondering stories in the New York Times about this trend, with Irish men and women beaming with pride, hardly able to believe it. And, after only a decade, this apparent miracle came crashing down on their heads…. sending them right back into the story they’d apparently finally escaped from. Remember all the End of History stuff after the wall fell? The optimism and the hope? Basically this was the time the Irish hoped was the End of History. And of course, we know it wasn’t. I would be lying if I said that these stories were powerful all on their own- they are in part affecting because they are basically mythic. They’re just one more example in a long line of stories we already know. We’ve heard these voices before- maybe not rendered in such a convincing way. Maybe not told with televisions and telephones in the background rather than ships and farms and famine cottages, but we all know how these stories end. They never end differently. I was reading Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber a few years ago, and there’s a part where Carter writes that she wishes that Juliet would just rise up and walk off her bier, that Tristan and Isolde would refuse to drink the love potion or die this time, refuse to be controlled by a seemingly inevitable fate that lead them to their doom every single time. I thought about that while reading this- part of its power is that we, too, have seen these characters go through this time after time and know how it ends, but we’re still watching- and why this particular iteration of it hurts so much, because it seems like finally they might escape this “inevitable” fate that history and our expectations set for them. This isn’t a perfect book. Ryan’s writing and some of his characters can get occasionally repetitive. It is a short book, but probably could have been even a few chapters shorter (there were a few characters who didn’t add very much to the emotional resonance of the novel and were clearly there for plot reasons only), and the “spinning heart” metaphor never really made much sense/was particularly effective, or the next four times it was repeated. I also think that he strayed a little into some things that did not feel true- they feel like the kind of truth you see on the news or read op-ed pieces about, but not actually real life things. But by and large, this was emotionally engaging, easy to fall into and easy to keep reading for hours until I finished. The stories will feel familiar, but they won’t feel cliched- they’ll, by and large, have the kind of truth that you look to find in first-person narratives, and they won’t cross the line into sentimentality. They press the feels button pretty effectively, and do it over and over again. It will take you an afternoon to read, and you’ll think about it for the rest of the day and I can’t imagine you’d feel you wasted your time. Whether or not you have a connection to Ireland and its past, I think you’ll find a connection to these people easily. And that, after all, is one of the most profound things we can ask of literature.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Laysee

    The Spinning Heart is a debut novella by Donal Ryan that describes a fractured community in a small rural Irish town in the wake of an economic recession. A local building firm, on which many families depend for their livelihood, has collapsed. The contractor has absconded, and left many workers jobless, in debt, and without their pension. In 160 pages, The Spinning Heart paints a cheerless and oppressive world from which I wish to flee. More than the bleakness of the financial circumstances is The Spinning Heart is a debut novella by Donal Ryan that describes a fractured community in a small rural Irish town in the wake of an economic recession. A local building firm, on which many families depend for their livelihood, has collapsed. The contractor has absconded, and left many workers jobless, in debt, and without their pension. In 160 pages, The Spinning Heart paints a cheerless and oppressive world from which I wish to flee. More than the bleakness of the financial circumstances is the suffocating inner world of the characters, a world that is choked with the debris of family dysfunction and latent aggression. Each chapter is narrated in the voice of a character in the community who contributes his or her perspective of how lives are disrupted and destroyed when jobs and esteem are lost. We catch glimpses of the characters’ early life, which are mostly devastating accounts of maltreatment by alcoholic or abusive fathers that have repercussions on present day relationships. Of the twenty-one characters, the foreman Bobby Mahon stands out from the crowd as the salt-of-the earth individual that many respect for his industry, integrity and dependability. It is interesting to piece together, from disparate voices, who Bobby really is, who killed his father, and who kidnapped a young child from a crèche. A novel like this weighs on the heart because there seems, in my view, little real distinction between the characters. Their experiences seem to coalesce into one crystallized, common, twisted identity. Bobby hates his drinking father (Frank) and wishes him dead. Frank, who as a child was beaten by his father for reporting perfect scores on a test, has developed ‘a knack for hitting people where it hurts’ with spiteful words. Trevor, a hypochondriac, talks about killing his mother. Lloyd, whose father left him when he was a child, kidnaps a preschool child and dreams of killing him. Denis keeps thinking of hitting his wife and eventually does worse than that and we learn that his father had laughed at and taunted him for losing a game at school. The sins of the father are predictably visited on the son. In Bobby Mahon’s opening chapter, attention is drawn to a spinning heart in his father’s house: ‘There’s a red metal heart in the centre of the low front gate, skewered on a rotating hinge. It’s flaking now; the red is nearly gone. It needs to be scraped and sanded and painted and oiled. It still spins in the wind, though. I can hear it creak, creak, creak as I walk away. A flaking, creaking, spinning heart.’ Perhaps, this spinning heart is emblematic of the dross that is slowing eating away the lives of the inhabitants in this community. I cannot say I care much about the characters in this story even though their plight should elicit pity. The apparent sameness of the drudgery felt over-stretched. I believe Ryan’s intention was to mirror the spoken language of the rural folks, but the usage of words (Irish dialect?) sometimes grated on me. I appreciated the story better when I read without paying too much attention to how things were said. I am in the minority for my lack of enthusiasm with respect to this book. Please read the many positive reviews. The Spinning Heart is the winner of the Guardian First Book Prize and the Irish Book Award. Ryan has a unique voice and I should perhaps listen more closely. A first publication is cause for celebration; awards for a debut even more reason for celebration. I believe the best is yet to be.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Once again, Karen gets it right. This could quite possibly be the best book released in early 2014 that goes completely under the radar. I hope I'm wrong about this, and that it gets all the attention it deserves. This is a deceptively short novel about an Irish town living it large in a boom economy until the Dell, the source of the towns prosperity in the New Economy, decided to close up shop. At the center of this story is the foreman of a construction company that had been building estates (h Once again, Karen gets it right. This could quite possibly be the best book released in early 2014 that goes completely under the radar. I hope I'm wrong about this, and that it gets all the attention it deserves. This is a deceptively short novel about an Irish town living it large in a boom economy until the Dell, the source of the towns prosperity in the New Economy, decided to close up shop. At the center of this story is the foreman of a construction company that had been building estates (housing developments) until the housing market went bust, some shaky investments were made and the foreman and all the employees found themselves unemployed and without dole benefits because their boss hadn't been doing something with stamps that apparently in Ireland an employer needs to do for their employees so that they receive their benefits if they lose their jobs. I'm actually a little unclear on how all this works, but basically the owner of the construction company was paying all the employees off the books so when the company went bust they couldn't get any assistance. The book opens with the foreman's story. Each chapter that follows is a different person from the town's story or observation about what's going on around him or her. What starts off for the first couple of chapters as disparate stories begin to mesh and as the novel unfolds the story of what is going on in the town takes shape in a way where the whole is bigger than all of the small details each of the characters stories seem to be giving in their own limited view of things. It's quite a remarkable feat of storytelling the way Donal is able to help the reader construct a whole story by letting the reader fill in some of the gaps from the relationships between the different stories. The novel is a work of understated beauty. The richness of the book is surprising for a 160 page novel with more than a dozen characters all getting their own chance at being the center of attention. In a perfect world this would be huge when it comes out this year, instead I think this is going to be one of those wonderful small press books that those lucky enough to find will cherish and enjoy but which the bigger book buying world will sadly miss out on.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This is the best book I've read in a very long time. I think it's a masterpiece. This is the first paragraph: My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in. I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down. He smiles at me; that terrible smile. He knows I'm coming to check is he dead. He knows I know he knows. He laughs his crooked laugh. I ask is he okay for everything and he only laughs. We look at each other for a while and when I can no This is the best book I've read in a very long time. I think it's a masterpiece. This is the first paragraph: My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in. I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down. He smiles at me; that terrible smile. He knows I'm coming to check is he dead. He knows I know he knows. He laughs his crooked laugh. I ask is he okay for everything and he only laughs. We look at each other for a while and when I can no longer stand the stench off him, I go away. Good luck, I say, I'll see you tomorrow. You will, he says back. I know I will. It's that good from start to finish. Really. Every chapter is narrated by a different voice from the town. Every voice is unique and intriguing. There is not one weak voice in the group, and each lends something important and distinct to the story. I do have my favorites: Bobby. Vasya. Realtin. Hillary. Seanie. Vasya is probably my very favorite. This was so rich and artful. So authentic. Such a very good book. I read it and listened to the audio. The audio is outstanding. But reading it was also a wonderful experience. Truly, I cannot say enough about this book. It was so, so good. And if you're still not convinced, consider what a real Irish reader has to say: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    The Spinning Heart is just tremendously, unbelievably good.  Set in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, Donal Ryan chronicles the impact of the recession on a close-knit rural community.  With about twenty different points of view, the chapters are short, each a couple of pages long, and the novel is bookended by chapters from a married couple, Bobby and Triona.  Bobby is the novel's central character, each of the other characters connected to his story in some way, but it's hard to give a plot synopsis The Spinning Heart is just tremendously, unbelievably good.  Set in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, Donal Ryan chronicles the impact of the recession on a close-knit rural community.  With about twenty different points of view, the chapters are short, each a couple of pages long, and the novel is bookended by chapters from a married couple, Bobby and Triona.  Bobby is the novel's central character, each of the other characters connected to his story in some way, but it's hard to give a plot synopsis without giving anything away.  Suffice to say it opens with the brilliant lines “My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in.  I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down.” Though The Spinning Heart is Ryan's debut, this is my third novel by him, and I think it's safe to say that it's cemented him as one of my all-time favorites.  His prose is just top-notch, lyrical and evocative, and he has a way of capturing the distinct voice of each of his narrators while still allowing his own style to creep in - I just find it so compelling and pleasurable to read any of his books.  The plot isn't heavy in this one, though there's a kidnapping and a murder going on in the background, but it was still hard for me to put it down.  In fact, I'd recommend reading it in as few sittings as possible, lest you begin to forget the hundred names you're meant to be keeping track of.  Though I'd argue that if you forget who's who a couple of times, as long as you remember who Bobby is, the impact won't really be lessened.  This ultimately succeeds as a portrait of a community economically depressed, and is more about the overall effect that Ryan achieves with the panoply of voices, rather than the intricacies of the characters' lives. Anyway, as I'm sure you can tell, I loved this. Maybe not QUITE as much as I loved All We Shall Know, but it's close.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eh?Eh!

    karen makes me buy books. I've found that if I pay attention to her reviews, noting any comparisons to other authors or books and how the book feels to her, matching it up against my personal tastes, it's always an amazing reading experience. My (weak) vow to avoid book buying is forgotten as soon as she does the written equivalent of looking at me with wide, earnest eyes that say "you will love this." One of my greatest pleasures is feeling that shift inside when something I'm reading moves me, karen makes me buy books. I've found that if I pay attention to her reviews, noting any comparisons to other authors or books and how the book feels to her, matching it up against my personal tastes, it's always an amazing reading experience. My (weak) vow to avoid book buying is forgotten as soon as she does the written equivalent of looking at me with wide, earnest eyes that say "you will love this." One of my greatest pleasures is feeling that shift inside when something I'm reading moves me, cradling the cover and running my fingers down the edge...in pursuit of that, I pay attention to her. She hit the mark with this one. I read her review and immediately marked it for purchase, someday, since she had obtained it months early through netgalley. I admit, I forgot about it in the mess of the to-read list and pile. But in conversation with her later, about other things, she brought this up again. I need the reminders. Each chapter is the thoughts of a different person from a small village in Ireland, giving you the setting and an incredible development of the entire culture. The chapters move through time chronologically, so you become aware of folks and then something happens that everyone is thinking, gossiping, and worrying about. There isn't a big bang of an ending or conclusion. It is a short book but wow does it contain multitudes. This is one of those magical bags that are bigger on the inside than the outside. I keep bringing it up, but I've developed a bitterness towards all things Irish due to being done wrong by an individual. Just before that, I got a first hand perspective of this nation of hardworking, somewhat insular, perverse, deeply proud, long historied, messy mess of human beings. Jaysus, indeed. While it is unique and lovely in many ways, it can also be unhappily calcified and just awful in many others. Certain stereotypes and separation of what is considered proper gendered behavior are ingrained, harmfully so. It makes me sad. I think much of the neuroses and broken minds presented in these chapters are built in to the Irish way. And perhaps this is my bitterness talking, since there's plenty of that everywhere in every culture, but it is probably worse there, where things are the way they are and swaying public opinion for certain things taken for granted here is impossible, small things, important things. Things that tear a person up on the level of the home and immediate family. Wonderful, short book. karen is right, as always. Worth her weight in gold, that young one is.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    This earned its place on my to-read list because of a plethora of positive reviews from Goodreads friends and other respected sources; prior to that, I'd heard of it but had little interest, feeling it would be dry and worthy and depressing. It is actually almost the opposite of that - readable, entertaining and often funny (though still a bleak story), it reminded me of Tana French's Broken Harbour in more ways than one. Using a chorus of narrators - each taking their turn for a chapter, no This earned its place on my to-read list because of a plethora of positive reviews from Goodreads friends and other respected sources; prior to that, I'd heard of it but had little interest, feeling it would be dry and worthy and depressing. It is actually almost the opposite of that - readable, entertaining and often funny (though still a bleak story), it reminded me of Tana French's Broken Harbour in more ways than one. Using a chorus of narrators - each taking their turn for a chapter, none repeated though many characters recur - it portrays an Irish community in the midst of the late-2000s financial crisis. Very short, a quick read, it is made even more enjoyable by its use of conversational language: there's plenty of dialect and slang but the context makes this easy to understand. The voices are impressively distinct given their number, and the similarity of the dialect used for many of them. The chapters work very well as little character portraits (confessions?) with snippets of history, but there is also an overarching plot, a story that turns on a couple of dramatic events. A mood is captured, a lasting impression is created. I might have started off feeling like this book was going to be a chore, but it changed my mind so effectively that it's secured my interest in Ryan's other/future work.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    In 2008, Ireland had an economic collapse with far reaching consequences. In this novel, Ryan presents a small village attempting to cope with the current recession. Each chapter is headed by one of the characters in the village, who tell their story about how they came to be in the positions they are in and how they are or are not coping with things. The character Booby, is the connecting thread, he is the one who knows all the different characters. There were many of these stories that I liked In 2008, Ireland had an economic collapse with far reaching consequences. In this novel, Ryan presents a small village attempting to cope with the current recession. Each chapter is headed by one of the characters in the village, who tell their story about how they came to be in the positions they are in and how they are or are not coping with things. The character Booby, is the connecting thread, he is the one who knows all the different characters. There were many of these stories that I liked, would have liked to have learned more about these characters, but in such a short novel, structured this way there is only so much that can be presented. Think I would have liked this more if the author had narrowed his focus and used a few less characters. Was a bit difficult to keep track of the different people and how they fit in. It was good, the language is very coarse but the narrations presented seemed to be very realistic.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    This is an amazing story told by many voices during an economical collapse in a small Irish town. It's incredible that a novel can be presented from multiple points-of-view and yet remain cohesive. This story will touch on all of your emotions and leave you satisfied when it is all over. I highly recommend this read! This is an amazing story told by many voices during an economical collapse in a small Irish town. It's incredible that a novel can be presented from multiple points-of-view and yet remain cohesive. This story will touch on all of your emotions and leave you satisfied when it is all over. I highly recommend this read!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    It took me the length of one U2 album to read this novel of connected stories, but it was not light reading. It takes place in recent Ireland, in a small town suffering economic collapse after the housing market didn't have the expected boom, and most men in the town are without employment (or unemployment benefits.) Each story is told by a different character but the story moves forward. I loved the different voices, the different perspectives, and I hope this book makes the Booker shortlist. Ry It took me the length of one U2 album to read this novel of connected stories, but it was not light reading. It takes place in recent Ireland, in a small town suffering economic collapse after the housing market didn't have the expected boom, and most men in the town are without employment (or unemployment benefits.) Each story is told by a different character but the story moves forward. I loved the different voices, the different perspectives, and I hope this book makes the Booker shortlist. Ryan has a great capture of personalities. Take this blurb on Bobby's father, from the son's perspective (I also like this one because it sounds so familiar): "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." Most of the characters become exactly this familiar, this known to the reader, within the vicinity of just a few short pages. Excellent writing for a first novel by Donal Ryan!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dem

    The spinning Heart by Donal Ryan. The Spinning Heart is a collection of chapters with a different character narrating each one. The story is set in a small Irish Town post Celtic Tiger. The main protagonist of the novel is Bobby Mahon and Bobby is connected in some way with all of the other characters in the Novel. The opening paragaph of this book reads as follows; "My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in . I go there every day to see is he dead and ever The spinning Heart by Donal Ryan. The Spinning Heart is a collection of chapters with a different character narrating each one. The story is set in a small Irish Town post Celtic Tiger. The main protagonist of the novel is Bobby Mahon and Bobby is connected in some way with all of the other characters in the Novel. The opening paragaph of this book reads as follows; "My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in . I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down. He hasn't yet missed a day of letting me down" There is some really laugh out loud moments in this book and there are sad moments too. I found the characters are so well drawn in the short chapters that you are able to conjure them in your head all these characters have faces and voices. I know these characters from life experiences and I think we all know characters like these. I enjoyed this read the only thing I found disappointing with the novel was that there was too many characters to keep track off and I was left wanting more from characters like Bobby and Triona. NOTE: Having read this for a second time have to admit the excessive use of bad landuage really is too much and grated on my nerves second time around.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gearóid

    Really powerful and moving writing. I remember years ago going to my first play The Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan. I remember the hairs on the back of my neck standing up it was so real and powerful. That is the way this book effected me also. Some people will say this is a sad and depressing book and it is sad and maybe depressing but it is also full of humour through all the hardships which is uplifting. At times you will laugh really hard. I really love his way or writing and the way he writes in th Really powerful and moving writing. I remember years ago going to my first play The Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan. I remember the hairs on the back of my neck standing up it was so real and powerful. That is the way this book effected me also. Some people will say this is a sad and depressing book and it is sad and maybe depressing but it is also full of humour through all the hardships which is uplifting. At times you will laugh really hard. I really love his way or writing and the way he writes in the local dialects. Have read both his books now and highly recommend both. Just have to wait for his next book now!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    I see that this book has gotten a lot of rave reviews, and I did admire the beauty of the author’s language, as well as, especially, his ear for the vernacular and the varieties (even within in a village) of spoken (or thought) speech. Ultimately, however, I felt that the emotional punch of the book was muted. The structure, while interesting, ends up diminishing our engagement with any character in particular. Each chapter (20-odd) is narrated by a different character, and each chapter is basica I see that this book has gotten a lot of rave reviews, and I did admire the beauty of the author’s language, as well as, especially, his ear for the vernacular and the varieties (even within in a village) of spoken (or thought) speech. Ultimately, however, I felt that the emotional punch of the book was muted. The structure, while interesting, ends up diminishing our engagement with any character in particular. Each chapter (20-odd) is narrated by a different character, and each chapter is basically a vignette, a portrait or character study, even though some material advances the “plot” such as it is. Inevitably, in such a structure, certain characters shine – whether because of their importance to the story (Bobby, Triona) or because of the uniqueness of their story (Lily) – while many others seem insufficiently undifferentiated (there are a great number of, on the one hand, unemployed builders - young men of various sorts, and on the other, failed parents) and it becomes difficult to remember who is who or to care. And the twinned dramatic plots – one a murder, one a kidnapping – seem forced. In neither case does the highly artificial nature of the drama seem as interesting as the normal back and forth between women and men or parents and children in an Irish village devastated by the Great Recession. The latter – the first-hand narrative of a way of life that is both unchanged from pre-modernity in certain gender, family and religious roles and totally revolutionized (in the sense of turned upside down) by post-modern financial desolation – is beautifully done, and quite fascinating. Ryan certainly has promise, and I think future works will likely feel more finished, and less overcrowded.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Cheri

    Donal Ryan’s debut novel chronicles the aftermath of the post-2008 Irish economic collapse through the voices of 21 residents of one of Ireland’s small towns, with the main character of Bobby Mahon, a young construction foreman and father as the witness to his neighbors demise, their foreclosures and failing health problems. Mahon’s character has such a quality of goodness and decency that without the references to the use of “prefab” construction materials, Facebook, and cell phones you might f Donal Ryan’s debut novel chronicles the aftermath of the post-2008 Irish economic collapse through the voices of 21 residents of one of Ireland’s small towns, with the main character of Bobby Mahon, a young construction foreman and father as the witness to his neighbors demise, their foreclosures and failing health problems. Mahon’s character has such a quality of goodness and decency that without the references to the use of “prefab” construction materials, Facebook, and cell phones you might forget when the story takes place. While the economic background story could take place anywhere, Ryan’s voices never let you forget you’re in rural Ireland (“He drank out the farm to spite his father” "Mickey Briars softened his Jameson with his tears"), Mahon’s voice lends a charming old-fashioned touch. “Having a wife is great. You can say things to your wife that you never knew you thought. It just comes out of you when the person you’re talking to is like a part of yourself. We went to a play inside in town one time; I can’t remember the name of it. You couldn’t do that without a wife. Imagine it being found out, that you went to see a play, on your own! With a woman, you have an excuse for every kind of soft thing.”

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    In his impressive debut, Donal Ryan captures the myriad voices of an Irish community in financial and moral crisis. The novel is like a chorus of 21 first-person narratives. Ryan features representatives from every sector of the community: an old woman, a little girl, a Russian immigrant, a single mother, a police officer, a schizophrenic man, and so on. He triumphs at giving each character a distinctive voice, varying by level of diction, thickness of Irish dialect, staid or gossipy tone, and e In his impressive debut, Donal Ryan captures the myriad voices of an Irish community in financial and moral crisis. The novel is like a chorus of 21 first-person narratives. Ryan features representatives from every sector of the community: an old woman, a little girl, a Russian immigrant, a single mother, a police officer, a schizophrenic man, and so on. He triumphs at giving each character a distinctive voice, varying by level of diction, thickness of Irish dialect, staid or gossipy tone, and each person’s particular preoccupations. The context may not be immediately apparent, but it starts to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. (An excerpt of my full review is available to non-subscribers at BookBrowse.)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)] (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    These voices come from the same neighbourhoods as Roddy Doyle's and Agnes Owens's. They are the working class of an Irish village, suffering the ongoing effects of the financial crash of the last few years. Each short chapter is in the voice of a different character, chatting to you, explaining or describing recent events in the village in the context of their own lives. The reader is surrounded by a constant overlapping and at times jarringly different perspectives on key incidents. The charact These voices come from the same neighbourhoods as Roddy Doyle's and Agnes Owens's. They are the working class of an Irish village, suffering the ongoing effects of the financial crash of the last few years. Each short chapter is in the voice of a different character, chatting to you, explaining or describing recent events in the village in the context of their own lives. The reader is surrounded by a constant overlapping and at times jarringly different perspectives on key incidents. The characters speak as if they already know the reader, as if they are talking directly to you in the local pub. They are simultaneously optimistic but realistically pessimistic about their lives. Some of them are funny -- "My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in. I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down." -- others are spitefully mean and selfish. Ryan has superbly captured the voices. “There’s a red metal heart in the centre of the low front gate, skewered on a rotating hinge. It’s flaking now; the red is nearly gone. It needs to be scraped and sanded and painted and oiled. It still spins in the wind, though. I can hear it creak, creak, creak as I walk away. A flaking, creaking, spinning heart.” The spinning heart is the hope and the reality of this Irish village.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jim Elkins

    The Untranslatability of Irish-English I read this because I heard Donal Ryan read -- he's spectacular: very funny, modest, engaging and dramatic -- and because it's been said that he gives voice to life after the Celtic Tiger. Principally what interests me in "The Spinning Heart" is its use of language. In terms of content, there are good passages in the book, but the stories, and events tend to be maudlin, sentimental, and bathetic. The characters tend to be crazily fragile or horribly stubborn, The Untranslatability of Irish-English I read this because I heard Donal Ryan read -- he's spectacular: very funny, modest, engaging and dramatic -- and because it's been said that he gives voice to life after the Celtic Tiger. Principally what interests me in "The Spinning Heart" is its use of language. In terms of content, there are good passages in the book, but the stories, and events tend to be maudlin, sentimental, and bathetic. The characters tend to be crazily fragile or horribly stubborn, wildly emotional, hopelessly thuggish, self-destructive, frozen with grief, paralyzed with inarticulacy, pickled in self-pity, rigid with rage, shredded by hopeless desires. There are murders, drownings, and hangings, but there are also terribly dysfunctional families, schizophrenics, and people with severe mental issues. Characters hurtle through the book's short chapters, displaying their tragedies, plucking at readers' heartstrings. To respond to this kind of frantic stimulation and breathless emotional stimulation, a reader would have to lack some interest in, or even some sense of, more complex characters and situations. But none of that has to do with the language, which is very interesting in its own right. Irish English (technically, "Hiberno-English") is full of idioms and expressions that are not in UK English or North American English. Ryan uses more than almost any author any I know, including Roddy Doyle. If you consult Wikipedia you'll find linguists distinguish "loan words" (mainly from the Irish language), grammar and syntax, and pronunciation. That classification doesn't include idioms, and it doesn't capture a distinction that makes a large difference for legibility for readers who do not speak Hiberno-English. I would distinguish two kinds of "Hiberno-English" expressions: those that require explanation for non-Irish readers, and those that seem not to. (With emphasis on the "seem.") Examples of the first kind, which would require explanation: "It was melting close so it was." "He never threw a figure." Example of the second kind, which seem not to require explanation: "His young fella seen me all right." "They're pure solid ashamed of me." He "takes what money does be in my jar on the top shelf." There is, perhaps, a third kind of expression: one so straightforward that it seems not to need an explanation and at the same time so minor, brief, or subtle that it can be difficult even for Irish speakers to explain. A good example is the first line I quoted: "It was melting close so it was." In Ireland warm humid weather is commonly described as "close," and it's easy to see "melting close" as a plausible poetic modifier. The last phrase, "so it was," is ubiquitous in spoken Irish, so it is. People will add it to many sorts of sentences, so they will. But it isn't at all easy to say what it means, so it isn't. Linguists classify this use of "so" as an instance of "reflection for emphasis," along with expressions like "'tis herself that's coming now," but that leaves unsaid exactly what the emphasis provides. This seems to me like a good example of the insufficiency of linguistics when it comes to the study of fiction. "It was melting close so it was" does not mean "It was very warm, really," or "it was really very warm," or "I want to stress it was very warm," or "Gosh it was very warm" or any other equivalent. It matters a lot, so it does, that even Irish people would have a very hard time explaining exactly what "so it was" is doing in that sentence "It was melting close so it was." Often enough, in my experience, it isn't grammatical emphasis at all. In this example, therefore, it wouldn't have anything to do with the weather. It would be a way of saying "I'm feeling a bit friendly, so I'm putting things informally." This brings me to the question of legibility and translation. All together "The Spinning Heart" has hundreds of Hiberno-English expressions; some pages have one or two in almost every sentence. I think that for Ryan, this is just a way of being true to the way people speak. It's the same motivation that generated Doyle's books, and for that matter it's behind much of Joyce. But unlike "Ulysses," for example, there is evidence in "The Spinning Heart" that Ryan has not thought of his book's reception outside Ireland. There's a chapter written from the point of view of a Russian immigrant worker. He understands very little English, so he tells us. But Ryan chooses to write the chapter in perfect English, but stripped of the idioms and expressions of Hiberno-English. It is of course illogical -- not to mention improbable -- that a Russian worker who can barely understand what his foreman is telling him could write "my fists were raw and scorched with pain," or "I knew the way to a quay, on the edge of a lake of placid water." As readers, we are supposed to experience the prose in this chapter as ethnically neutral. Of course it isn't: it's proper, non-colloquial literary English as practiced in Ireland. The logical choice, given that this book is composed of a series of chapters that are all first person, would have been to write this chapter in broken English. Ryan chose not to, and that implies that his use of idioms and other expressions through every other chapter in the book is intended make the book realistic and honest, rather than to help express individual voices and thoughts. It is not easy to see how a book as full of idioms and dialect as this one can work for foreign readers. I have been visiting Ireland long enough -- almost 25 years -- so I get almost all these Hiberno-English turns of phrase, but for non-Irish readers such a book can only be an unpredictable, uneven collection of familiar expressions and colorful, sometimes opaque expressions. Books this full of nuance are highly resistant to translation, but even within their own language they are effectively untranslatable -- or to put it differently, for an American reader this book will be partly illegible, in ways that the reader will not be able to judge. (Most readers will recognize a few Hiberno-English usages, and they will think they're getting most of the meaning: but it is in the nature of the second and third kinds of Hiberno-English, in my enumeration, that readers will not be aware what they are missing, or even, often, _that_ they are missing anything.) This gives rise to a curious paradox of legibility: a book like "The Spinning Heart" can be hermetic, provincial, regional or national, in a way that neither its author nor a foreign reader can understand. I think there is a theme here worth exploring for those involved in translation theory. Books in English that invest heavily in local dialect, idioms, and other "non-standard" usages -- for example some of Faulkner's, Matthiessen's "Far Tortuga," or even "The Palm-Wine Drinkard" -- are usually considered adequately or even fully legible by people not native to those dialects. But if there's some truth in my notion that linguistic categories don't capture the nuances of expression in usages like "reflection for emphasis," then books like this one are instances of an unusual category: a book that is untranslatable, even within its own language, because both the authors and readers unfamiliar with the dialect will assume they can understand it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Éimhear (A Little Haze)

    “So I'm going to Australia in the context of a severe recession and therefore I am not a yahoo or a waster but a tragic figure, a mother and incarnation of the poor tenant farmer, laid low by famine, cast from his smallholding by the Gombeen Man, forced to choose between the coffin ship and the grave. Mattie Cummins and the boys were blackguards; I am a victim. They all left good jobs to go off and act the jackass below in Australia; I haven't worked since I finished my apprenticeship. He has “So I'm going to Australia in the context of a severe recession and therefore I am not a yahoo or a waster but a tragic figure, a mother and incarnation of the poor tenant farmer, laid low by famine, cast from his smallholding by the Gombeen Man, forced to choose between the coffin ship and the grave. Mattie Cummins and the boys were blackguards; I am a victim. They all left good jobs to go off and act the jackass below in Australia; I haven't worked since I finished my apprenticeship. He has to go to the far side of the planet to get work, imagine, the mother does be saying to her ICA crowd. How is it at all we left them run the country to rack and ruin? How was it we swallowed all them lies? You can be certain sure there's no sons of bankers or developers or government ministers has to go off over there to get work.” No, nope, no siree… this book... just not for me. What I liked: The premise… the idea of viewing life in small town Ireland after the financial collapse and end of the Celtic tiger was a very interesting one The multiple narrators… I liked the choral nature of the book. All these disparate voices coming together to tell each of their stories which in truth became everyone’s story The wit... the author is definitely witty and has a knack for giving his characters an Irish authenticity What I did not like: The unnecessary vulgarity of the language… it was too much. The crudeness of what the characters were saying… this book at times was downright base. I do not enjoy reading such things. Simple as. I am ultimately very disappointed with this book. All its wonderful potential was just ruined for me by vulgarity. In the end I did not care about the outcome of the story, what happened to the characters etc... I just wanted this book finished, done and dusted; to close the proverbial chapter on it! Therefore I can’t bring myself to awarding it any higher than one star.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I thought that in such a short book the author managed to convey a wide panorama of the impact of the economic crash in Ireland. There were so many voices in this book; Ryan was masterful. Read a second time and it was better the second time.

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