THE SPINNING HEART by Donal Ryan
Details: Reading Group Read
“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.”
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.
Winner of the Guardian First Book Award 2013
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013
Winner of Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2012
Gosh, I’m not quite sure what to make of this book. It contains rather sad and depressing, although insightful and sharp, snapshots of the lives of inhabitants of a small village in the west of Ireland. The area has gone from riches to rags after the fraudulent local builder who provided the jobs and prosperity, goes broke and flees the country. These people suffer in similar yet very individual ways through the recession following the building boom.
The character’s stories are bleak. There is no real hope, nothing to look forward to and no solution in sight. On top of and compounded by the economic doom are the personal issues these characters deal with; guilt, depression, confusion, desperation, lack of love, loneliness, the list goes on and on and not a single characters appears to be happy.
Of course this town is a microcosm of Ireland. The stories show how individual actions affect a whole community in sometimes surprising and unexpected ways. They also point how even in the midst of a group of people we have known all our lives we can be completely alone and isolated. As such it is very clever and very well written; all these characters have their own voice and their own issues, even if they all stem from the same source. I admire how the author managed to tell several tales through the eyes and mouths of twenty characters all of whom only have one (shortish) chapter dedicated to them. I’m impressed that twenty different voices managed to result in one coherent story. Unfortunately my admiration for Donal Ryan’s skill doesn’t result in affection for the book he’s written.
I prefer my stories character driven rather than event driven. The glimpses of lives I got were not enough to satisfy my curiosity. Not that I felt I wasn’t given all the information I needed to follow the story; I think it was all there. What I needed in this book and didn’t get was just one happy section; for one character whose life wasn’t filled with pain or despair. They say ‘bad news sells’ and this book feels as if it’s trying to prove that rule. For me though bad news only leaves an impression if it’s contrasted by good news. Only blackness renders me almost blind to what I’m reading and the messages I’m supposed to find in the words.
I can’t help feeling the author took every issue known to men and decided to put them all in one, 156 pages long, book. While it gives us some beautiful scenes and touching quotes, it also leaves us overwhelmed by the misery of it all.
“You’re some fool, she said with her eyes. I know I am, my red cheeks said back.”
“She saw more in me than I knew there was.” - Bobby about his wife Triona
“I don’t care, though, if he can never feel the same pride in me that I know he used to. I just want him to remember how he loved me. I want him to know I’m still his little girl.” Mags, after she’s come out to her parents.
To summarize: this book is well written with the numerous individual voices clear and distinct. It is also very clever in that it tells a full story from an almost endless amount of angles in such a way the reader isn’t really aware how it all connects until they are nearing the end of the book. However, none of that mitigates the fact this is a very depressing tale.