The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

The Spinning HeartThe Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Spinning Heart, by Donal Ryan, won multiple literary awards as well as being longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, and it is easy to see why. Although the novel is brief, at 160 pages, it packs a solid emotional wallop, as multiple narrators share their first-person accounts of life in a small town in Ireland after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger.
From the first pages of the novel, it is clear that Ryan is a talented author; his language captures a sense of the contemporary Irish mentality without losing the lyricism that is such a part of traditional Irish storytelling.
While they struggle with the apparently ordinary details of work and family life, the characters in The Spinning Heart muse about the importance and heroism in their own lives. In advising a girlfriend to stop mooning over a man, one woman notes, “He’s not Braveheart, I told her, and you’re not Braveheart’s girlfriend.” Despite this comment, Ryan shows how events that we often assume to be trivial, such as the gossip of neighbors, or the cruel words of a father to a son, may actually have the power to destroy lives. He subtly raises the question, “can we compare the tragedies of our age, the financial collapses and credit busts, with the bloody struggles of the ancestors whose lives we romanticize? Is it possible to be a hero in the present day?”
The Spinning Heart is filled with frustration and despair, from the single mother living on a ghost estate with her young son, to an immigrant from Siberia who longs for his homeland, but feels he cannot return. However, as the title suggests, it is also, ultimately a tale of the triumph, or at least the possibility of the triumph, of love. Ryan suggests that although the superficial things, such as technology and finances, may have changed in Ireland over the years, that love has remained an enduring force.
Another strength of the novel is how, by using multiple narrators, Ryan demonstrates how each person, like the blind man and the elephant, sees only a part of the whole. Ryan shows that people often don’t see their own flaws, but more importantly, that people often don’t recognize their own good qualities. With a few well-chosen words, Ryan reveals how everyone has hidden depths, from the man who loves his wife but doesn’t have the words to express himself, to the Siberian immigrant with the heart of a poet but with a limited ability to communicate in English.
Ultimately, Ryan creates characters who we care deeply for. In The Spinning Heart, he creates a tale both relevant to current affairs, and timeless.
I received a review copy of The Spinning Heart from the publisher through NetGalley.

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