Review: The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

If you keep up to date with news from the book world, you’ll know that Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart won the Guardian First Book Award late last year, and that only means the number of people raving about it has increased a hundred fold.

I’m always a bit cautious when it comes to books that have been hyped a lot, worried about whether they’ll live up to expectations. The Spinning Heart definitely exceeded my expectations (which were pretty high to begin with).

In the wake of the financial collapse in Ireland, a group of characters in a small town tell their stories, offering a picture of their lives that they don’t outwardly show.

Ryan’s first person narrative switches in every chapter to a new character, who tells us not just what is happening and the conservations they have had and the things they have seen, but also what they are thinking and feeling and hoping and fearing, and they do it all in the language and tone of rural Ireland. It took me a page or so to get into the rhythm of the dialogue, but once I did I could so clearly hear the voice and accent in my head.

As the book progresses, the reader is able to piece together the central plot running through the novel, which unfolds through the eyes and ears and minds of everyone we meet. It’s a fascinating way of storytelling, one that seems really truthful – in real life people only know bits and pieces of things, so multiple viewpoints are needed to figure everything out.

From its opening 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) to the very end, Ryan pulls no punches with The Spinning Heart. In a brief 156 pages Ryan has crafted a novel that tells the story not just of a town, but of a country. That’s some achievement.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Transworld. This did not affect my review. 

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