The Spinning Heart: A Novel

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Overview

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 ...

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The Spinning Heart: A Novel

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Overview

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.

Winner of the 2013 Guardian First Book Award

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Daphne Kalotay
With the barest thread of a story line, the book suggests an intimate oral history of a moment in time, its rotation of voices—sharing regrets and desires along with town gossip—reminiscent of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology…Ryan writes with compassion, honesty and an appealing deadpan humor…I felt some alarm when I realized I would continue to meet one new narrator after the next for the entire book, like a long receiving line at a party—but it is to the author's credit that I rarely had to check back to keep everyone straight. There is also the pleasant anticipation of wondering how each new character will fit into Ryan's mosaic.
Publishers Weekly
01/06/2014
The winner of the Guardian First Book Award features a chorus of voices telling the story of an Irish village undergoing a post-recession crisis and evokes Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, right down to a section narrated by a recently deceased character. At the center is Bobby Mahon, a building foreman who discovers, as the book opens, that his boss has “shafted” him and his coworkers, cheating them of a pension and disappearing after the housing boom goes bust. Bobby’s decency is admired by everyone, and it underpins the novel: the belief in Bobby’s good nature seems to unite these people, to serve as a salve on the wounds of economic collapse. As rumors spread that Bobby is having an affair and that he has killed his loathed father, and as a child disappears, the villagers will need to marshal their faith in him. Equal parts mournful and hopeful, the book pays keen attention to the ways lives coalesce and fall apart in time of personal and national crises. Even as some of the voices seem extraneous, added for color but little else, Ryan has created a faithful portrait of a time and place in his debut novel, but his truest accomplishment lies in the fact that, though the individual accounts add up to a greater whole, each story stands on its own. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
Winner - The Guardian First Book Award

Winner of two Irish Book Awards - Newcomer of The Year and Book of The Year

Finalist - The IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

A BOSTON GLOBE BESTSELLER

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize

"At the book’s figurative heart is the construction foreman Bobby Mahon, a young husband and father whose moral decency anchors the story. Both his goodness and his brogue lend the novel an old-fashioned, storybook quality ('He drank out the farm to spite his father') that overlaps convincingly with mentions of Facebook, 'prefab' doors and dubious investments in Dubai to create an affecting portrayal of contemporary rural Ireland. With . . . its rotation of voices — sharing regrets and desires along with town gossip — reminiscent of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology . . . Ryan writes with compassion, honesty and an appealing deadpan humor." — The New York Times Book Review

"Ryan’s compelling, insightful tale chronicles the lives of the residents of a tightknit, rural town in the aftermath of the Irish economic collapse. This short, swift, brutally funny romp through the fallout of a national disaster points to the likelihood of emotional crisis when one’s livelihood and purpose disappear without warning . . . Although a great strength of the book is Ryan’s ability to capture the vernacular of contemporary Ireland and its diverse citizens, from newly arrived immigrants to jaded old men “drinking the farm” in local pubs to young, enterprising university graduates with stacks of useless ambition — the story itself might take place in any country affected by the disastrous economic upheavals of recent years."— The Boston Globe

"A convincing portrait of a good man in a bad time." The Wall Street Journal

"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)

"[Ryan] credibly conveys the viewpoints of men and women of all ages in language distinct from one section to the next. . . . [T]his startling debut reads like a modern Irish twist on William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying."Library Journal (Starred Review)

"Equal parts mournful and hopeful, the book pays keen attention to the ways lives coalesce and fall apart in time of personal and national crises. . . . Ryan has created a faithful portrait of a time and place in his debut novel, but his truest accomplishment lies in the fact that, though the individual accounts add up to a greater whole, each story stands on its own." Publishers Weekly

"The prose is lyrical, and the voices are authentic. Flashes of humor and tenderness shine through as well, as the helplessness and frustration of an era is effectively captured through the lives of these small-town residents." Booklist

"While The Spinning Heart's form and premise harken to Under Milk Wood and the Spoon River Anthology, its content is uniquely evocative of Ireland, thanks to the cultural archetypes Ryan examines and the contemporary realities and nuances he deftly portrays." — Irish America

"The traditional epithet for a good first novel is 'promising'. The Spinning Heart, however, is far more than that. Instead, it's the unambiguous announcement of a genuine and apparently fully-formed new talent." — The Spectator

"A funny, moving, technically inventive first novel.... Structurally the novel gestures to William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, while Ryan's sensitive observations on Irish life seem responsive to the work of his compatriot Patrick McCabe. That Ryan does not look out of place in such literary company is a measure of his achievement." The Financial Times

"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

"I have ordered a copy of The Spinning Heart for everyone I know who loves to read. What a treasure of a book." — Natascha McElhone

"I can't imagine a more original, more perceptive or more passionate work than this. Outstanding." — John Boyne

"A first novel that's up-to-date in its concerns but that also transcends the merely topical in its bleak, if often savagely funny, vision of a rural Ireland. Donal Ryan has an imaginative insight into his characters that's all his own and a furious energy to his prose that gives arrestingly vivid life to these blighted souls." — John Boland

"Ryan's feat is considerable. Narrative and character information is distributed among so many different voices and yet we never feel at a loss. Best of all, Ryan's ear for speech is acute...Given a novel as brilliantly realized as The Spinning Heart, I see no reason to look anywhere but the present. For Donal Ryan, the future is now." — Declan Hughes

"A new Irish writer of the very first order. Donal Ryan is the real deal." The Sunday Independent

"For all the harshness of language and the often brutal experiences, The Spinning Heart is unexpectedly tender. . . . An exciting contemporary novel about the lost and the wounded that listens to the present without discarding either the sins of the fathers or the literary legacy of the past." The Irish Times

"Startling audacity... [The Spinning Heart] may be slim in size, but it is hugely ambitious in structure and devastating in its emotional impact. Too often contemporary fiction is criticized for not engaging enough with contemporary issues, but this breathtakingly empathetic account of a community crumbling under the pressures of the recession deserves to stand as a companion piece to Anne Enright's wonderful The Forgotten Waltz, also set against the boom and bust of recent Irish history." — Lisa Allardice, Guardian First Book Award Chair and Guardian Review Editor

"The novel's multiple voices – including one terrific posthumous one – are a virtuosic achievement. . . . The novel's last line – "What matters only love?" – is peculiarly unpunctuated. Its meaning remains somewhat vague, but perhaps one might take it as a defense of the primacy of love: Could it be that despite all the divisions during this downturn, despite that possibly mocking symbol of the spinning heart on Bobby's father's gate, love is still all that really matters?" — Rebecca Foster, BookBrowse.com

"Twenty-one honest and scalding human voices conspire to tell the tale of the myriad struggles engendered by financial desperation." — World Literature Today

"Donal Ryan's heartbreaking (and often hilarious) narratives deliver life during the Irish economic collapse of recent years. His characters' testimonies glow with humor, pathos, wit and irony. . . . Donal Ryan's outspoken, damaged characters exquisitely deliver the psychological traumas and social fissures generated by sudden economic breakdowns." — Celtic Connection

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-10-20
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. The initial encounter is with Bobby Mahon, a builder who's been burned by the economic machinations of Pokey Burke. Bobby is married to Triona and is generally looked up to by everyone as an honest man, showing rare integrity in a world of rascals and swindlers. Later, we find out that he had been having an affair with Réaltín, though Triona was so in love that his peccadillos didn't matter. At the core of Bobby's existence is his hatred for his father, a man who frittered away the family inheritance and constantly belittled his son. Through other characters later in the novel, readers find out that Bobby has supposedly murdered the old man. Is it true? The composite picture from these memories and anecdotes is bleak indeed. Readers learn of Réaltín's groping by her egregious boss; Timmy's having been flattened by a shovel by an irate victim of Pokey's real estate fraud; Seanie Shaper's constant desire for women; a reminiscence from beyond the grave by Bobby's father; and finally there's Triona's calm, earth-mother voice and a moving meditation that ends, "What matters only love?" Disturbing and unnerving but ultimately beautiful.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Donal Ryan's remarkable first novel, The Spinning Heart, is an ancient story of greed, betrayal, and murder set in boom-and-bust modern Ireland and told by twenty-one characters whose language fairly sets the page alight. As you read each short monologue, you hear the voices of the Irish midlands. Expletive-rich, often hilarious, and perhaps outlandish to unaccustomed ears (the U.S. edition could use a glossary), the jittery speech so accurately reproduced by Ryan instantly transports us to a County Limerick village shaken by economic collapse.

The first voice, that of Bobby Mahon, is mild if menacing. "My father 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?. After I have him buried I'll burn the cottage down and piss on the embers and I'll sell the two acres for as much as I can get." Bobby hates his father, loves his dead mother, and wants the land. This could be Sophocles, then, or J. M. Synge (Bobby's name is surely a nod to Synge's hero, Christy Mahon, in The Playboy of the Western World), but Bobby is no tragic hero and these villagers are far from quaint. "They do be below in the shops, standing in miserable little circles, comparing hardships," Rory, an unemployed laborer, sneers, "?the same pricks I'll be looking for a job off if things pick up or London doesn't work out?." But things aren't picking up. "Ghost" housing developments disfigure the land. It's emigration or the dole, and now Bobby Mahon and his building crew realize that their slimy boss, Pokey Burke, has "shafted" them out of their pension dues and fled to Dubai, narrowly escaping a beating. Simpleminded young Tim gets in the way of the shovel: "To this day there's a quare auld draw on one of his eyeballs, as if it's not able to keep time with its comrade."

Darker attacks haunt the memories of many characters; old Lily, for example, the once "wanton" girl whose final pregnancy was almost ended by the enraged father's blows, or Jason, who reports, "My head is all over the place since I was small on account of I was fiddled with by a fat nonce down the road from our old house inside in town." It is Jason's dogs that sense fresh violence. "The dogs smelt death," he recalls, "We walked on down past Bobby Mahon's auld lad's cottage and he was dead inside in it and we never knew. I seen him just after he done it." But who does Jason see? Bobby is caught bloody- handed and arrested, but the mystery runs deeper, into wounds inflicted by a different father on another son.

This bleak territory of male brutality has been mapped by generations of Irish writers from John McGahern and Patrick McCabe, for example, to Claire Keegan and Sebastian Barry, among others. Yet The Spinning Heart, though firmly rooted in that ground, is nonetheless startlingly fresh. And funny, obscenely funny in ways that can only be hinted at here. "I won't think about Lorna again after I start tapping some fine blondie wan below in Australia," Brian, about to emigrate, reflects while Hillary, working for a crooked attorney, fumes about her flirtatious best friend: "She nearly raped my father at my granny's funeral. His mother, like." Within a few pages, often in a single sentence, Ryan can convey the weight of an old life, heavy with memories, or the nervy irreverence of the young, eager to fly. "I served my time in the sixties as a block-layer beyond in Liverpool," Pokey Burke's father declares, "in a firm belonging to a great big fat fella from south Tipp.? I asked him where would I stay and he laughed at me, a big, fat, wet laugh."

There may be a few characters too many in Ryan's cast — the creepy Mummy's boy, for example, with his cyber-freak sidekick — and the novel's subplot involving a child abduction seems flimsy and extraneous. But the strongest voices here not only conjure up, with astonishing immediacy, a small place and a particular time, they also reveal fragments of the truth behind the murder of old Mahon and the likely fate of his son, heightening the suspense with a casual remark. "That was a time when killing was for good, for God and country," the village policeman muses of the 1920s. "That time is long gone. But aren't we still the same people?"

Anna Mundow, a longtime contributor to The Irish Times and The Boston Globe, has written for The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among other publications.

Reviewer: Anna Mundow

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586422240
  • Publisher: Steerforth Press
  • Publication date: 2/25/2014
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 106,603
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Donal Ryan was born in a village in north Tipperary, a stroll from the shores of Lough Derg. Donal wrote the first draft of The Spinning Heart in the long summer evenings of 2010, and has also completed a second novel. He lives with his wife Anne Marie and two children just outside Limerick City.

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