Award winning debut novel The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan promised an interesting read. I often find that books of such fame are either hated or loved by myself. I found this to be an interesting read – both in its content and in its method of delivery.
It tells the story of a rural community experiencing huge changes after the death of the Celtic Tiger. ?The building boom has ended, work has dried up, the local builder employer has left the country leaving debts and a partially finished ghost estate. His employers find they aren’t entitled to unemployment benefits as he never paid their PRSI. Events include a murder, an abduction and the surfacing of many grudges.
Each chapter is written as recounted by a different character. In some ways, I wished to hear from a particular character again but I have to admit that most questions were answered by the end of the novel – it didn’t leave me with a frustrated unfinished feeling! The first chapter is by the ex-foreman of the building company and although there are many unanswered questions that I would like him to answer, I found this did happen in the last two chapters partly because his wife is the teller of the story in the final chapter.
The book does have echoes of Patrick McCabe which is a strength. ?I also like the way the characters are so interlinked to each other and yet have their rivalries or perhaps don’t even realise how closely they are related. ?We hear from a prostitute with grown children, we wonder who is actually a brother of who, without them even knowing. The age-old plotlines of fathers being cruel to sons, of not communicating, of beating pride out of them, of Irish mammies trying to do their best, the single mothers unsure of the fatherhood of their child, the tie of the land, the hatred of the tie of the land – these are all recognizable themes that so many Irish people will empathise with.
One thing that struck me was how young men and students were not allowed to do well in school – either because education wasn’t valued by a parent, that pride in doing well was seen as a sin, or that they knew their peers would beat the hell out of them for being a ‘swot’. ?I can remember lads being bullied for being top of the class. ?I remember my dad saying how he got 19 sums right out of 20 in an exam once and how frustrated he was to have got one wrong as he knew the answer – imagine if his parents had derided him for it – as happened to so many. ?I think of my son and daughter and their pride when they do well in a test. I remember how the bus driver told me once how Will was so excited about coming home and showing me his ‘star of the week’ badge, telling the bus driver that his mum would be so proud of him. Cruelty by parents to a child would make your heart break – be it real or fictional.
It gives a window into life in many communities in post Celtic Tiger Ireland, the shock and disbelief at the collapse, the large mortgages that couldn’t be paid, the ghost estates, the resentment, the necessity of emigration, the anger, the tensions. It’s a very perceptive and well written novel. Yes, I would certainly recommend it. I read it last weekend in two sittings and could scarcely put it down. It’s a novel that will stay with me.