The Spinning Heart – Donal Ryan

Having first heard of The Spinning Heart, from Sarah-Davis Goff as she was appearing on RTE radio 1’s Arena show. She spoke of The Spinning Heart with such love, and how the journey through the book was really touching.  The co-publisher for this book is The Lilliput Press, Dublin with Sarah being a previous employer she spoke of Ryan’s second novel being “a hidden gem”.

This novel, has 21 characters, spanning 21 chapters, in the centre is 1 person the very first character. Ryan writes like no other, he writes of these people and this particular setting with words and dialogue that mirrors Ireland is in so many contexts.

In one sentence Ryan makes your heart crumble, in one sentence Ryan makes you laugh so loud, and with just that one sentence Ryan makes you cry.

Talking in the character’s voice of Bobby, he describes his friend Seanie and how his dad’s smile felt to Bobby as a kid, Ryan hits you with simple yet powerful sentences like; “he would warm you with it”, in another sentence Ryan is talking in reference to his wife; “you can say things to your wife that you never know you thought. It comes out of you when the person you’re talking to is like a part of yourself” – MAGICAL!

The book is what I would call a series of links that make up a chain of a community that has been torn and broken by the recession, in particular, the property boom. He gives you a sense that it could be a part of rural Ireland (with one reference to Portumna) that got a ‘facelift’ by the many new estates and massive houses that were built within the Celtic Tiger.

At the core of the book is Bobby, and surrounding him are the many people who each gave their account of what has happened to them within this community. There are many small references that you need to take note of as they will be used again further on in the book (the character Réaltín is referred to by the character Brian) you find out who is who and what they are really doing through this circle around Bobby.

It touches on the harsh and tough welcomes Ireland gave to many eastern Europeans that moved to Ireland in the boom and how their journey led them to this so-called Promised Land. Ryan also shows the brutal goodbye Ireland gave to the many Irish that left this country in search of ‘a better life’ even though Ireland at this time was the best life possible, mountains of money and they go looking for more, the cheek!

Today in how this big balloon has burst and with it has sent many an Irish person flying to another ‘better place’ yet again looking for what is rightly theirs; a good life, they just don’t have the choice of where this life should be. Ryan shows though the eyes of Vasya how people belong to their native country and how Vasya address this community he is within; “these people are fixed, rooted, bound to a certain place”.

The story of this community widens out as you move through the book. The circle expands to people who are, in some way a weak link to Bobby. They take on a voice that is in a way a secret, a silent piece of gossip added in for your benefit to make you, the reader part of that community. Through the book, you as the reader react to it which keeps you reading and wondering what character you will meet next like you are going to the local shop.

I loved the way Ryan plays with the Irishness of a culchie and city person. And it is true how we view each other and make it that a city person is somewhat more developed than a country person, and how city people are just ignorant.

The story of The Spinning Heart, is pure love, loss, anger, guilt, pain, hurt, stupidity. How we as humans can spin our loved ones heart in so many ways. It gives voice to the mind of the old Irish way and one that as a reader I can truly relate to and understand.

The book is the mind of many Irish and how that mind is changing. The old Irishness of the 1950’s and how our parents were brought up. How they passed on their views to the next generation will not be passed on to the next generation. That spell can be broken and the heart will spin with an ease and comfort. In many ways, there will be an element of this Irish quietness that will stay with the Irish people the quietness that Ryan leaves in The Spinning Heart as you close the book.