BB21C: The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

Review published on December 25, 2015.

This is an extraordinary debut novel. It is set in small-town recession-hit Ireland where everyone knows everyone’s business and the departure of a bankrupt builder leaves a great hole in the community. Ex-foreman, Bobby, the central character is given first shot as narrator and then the tale is told by twenty other narrators, each developing the plot. No one is given a second bite at the cherry. This unusual device works so well, as within a few pages Ryan superbly creates each character through their narration.

It is a book of voices, every one clear and vibrant. Each section could be read separately as a high quality short story but when read as a whole it becomes a compelling first-rate novel of contemporary Ireland.

It is a slim book and deceptively simple. Reading groups would love that a little analysis shows what a complex piece of work this is and marvel at how a whole community could be created in so few words: wonderful economic writing. The Spinning Heart is a superb achievement by Donal Ryan. This man is a real discovery. Award-giving panels will need to give this book much consideration.

Phil Ramage

Phil subsequently nominated this title for his ‘best book he would never have read if it hadn’t been for nb:

Back in January 2013, in the dead time after [a visit to] New York, I was sent a copy of this book to review. It was not a book I would have chosen to read myself, a contemporary Irish novel from a debut author. Within a few pages I was hooked. Ryan uses twenty one narrators to develop the plot piecemeal. The departure of a bankrupt builder from a recession-hit small town leads to a great hole in the community. All the characters have one turn in telling their story and the way in which the characterisation is built up in a short space of time is superb.

It is a book of voices, everyone clear and vibrant. I was blown away. I felt that everyone should know about this book. I posted my five star review and hoped others would discover it. And they did. Within a short time a book chain had picked it out as a book to watch and Guy Pringle began to champion it in newbooks. The magazine had an interview with the incredibly talented author and my review appeared alongside that. By the middle of the year the Booker longlist arrived with Ryan’s name upon it. I don’t think I’ve actually read that many Booker longlisters before they have been announced. It felt like I was in at something big right from the beginning. It didn’t make the shortlist but did end up in the coveted “newbooks Top 10 Books of the Year” and was certainly my favourite read. This book took me by surprise and I was thrilled with its success and wanted to see it getting bigger and bigger. Since reading it I’ve discovered there is a wealth of contemporary Irish writing talent out there and I’m looking forward to getting a copy of Ryan’s second novel, The Thing About December. Don’t miss out on his debut.

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