Donal Ryan has just won Best Newcomer in the Bord Gais Irish Book Awards, and reading this novel you can soon see why. The Spinning Heart, published by Lilliput Press, is just about as contemporary as they come. Set in small town Ireland after the financial collapse we hear how it has affected the town as each character tells their tale.
Donal Ryan is originally from a village in North Tipperary and now lives in Limerick. His language for each character is spot-on; they each have their own clear identities from their vocal idiosyncrasies. The author's ear for phrases and accents makes the characters truly genuine.
As each character tells their tale, the story develops as we gain more information from different points of view. Bobby is a foreman, now out of work as Pokey, the gone-bust building contractor, has escaped abroad. Josie is Pokey's father, ashamed of his son's actions but still having to live within the community. Lily is the town 'bike' with five children by different fathers and her looks gone. Then there is Vasya, the Russian builder who understands little English but has certain phrases "that served me well for a while: off the books, under the table, on the queue tee." Réatín lives on a ghost estate with one other resident.
There are twenty one chapters here that each further the story and fill the gaps as told by another character in the town. Hearing the tale develop from so many voices, so many versions of the truth, is a very effective techniques as it builds up the complete picture. What starts out with the tragedy of many towns in the post-Celtic Tiger collapse turns much darker, and contemplative.
There is a certain ring of Auster's New York Trilogy about the novel, the same tale being told from different voices and maybe even a parallel with Pat McCabe small-town darkness in Butcher Boy.
This is a grim but true record of what has happened to Ireland, we can all see it all around us, but Ryan has captured it creatively in a dark tale, and it is one that will stay with you long after you have finished reading it.
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