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Review of The Spinning Heart By Dónal Ryan

Dónal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart is raw with emotion and is brutally honest. We get a glimpse into the lives of both young and old in a local Irish setting. This community, like so many others in Ireland today, has been left desolate by the Irish recession. Ryan lucidly articulates the words and thoughts of this post-boom generation.

Ryan creates a powerful sense of place as each character is either from or lives within this local community. The story is a collection of twenty-one internal monologues. Each monologue comes from a struggling character who has their own story to tell. The local building company, Pokey Burke’s company, which was the main source of employment and income for the area, has collapsed and now each character is figuring out what will happen next. Some of the characters were builders and are now looking at emigrating to Australia and London. There is an account from a mother who has lost her son and how each hour of each day is a struggle. Ryan provides us with an insight into the mind of a schizophrenic. There is a also foreign national, Vasya, who has worked for Pokey and is owed money from his former boss. However, we learn that Pokey has abandoned his debts, his crookedness and his country. Vasya could be like any other Irish emigrant who is a far way from home and longs to be able to return to their homeland but the notion of shame and failure stops him from returning. There is a toddler who tells the story of witnessing her parent’s deteriorating marriage. Her loving father is out of work and is unable to find any other gainful employment. Then there is the disenchanted single mother who is one of the only two residents in a ghost estate; like all the other characters, Réaltín is also trapped in the present searching for a new way.

The main character is Bobby Mahon. He is the golden-haired boy of the village. He is so good and kind to all around him. He cannot do enough for anyone who needs a helping hand. Bobby, too, is struggling. Previously the foreman for Pokey Byrne’s firm, he finds himself unemployed. His much disliked father still lives in the same village and has made Bobby’s life a living nightmare through psychological abuse. His father is like a source of poison, which has left his son damaged. Bobby is unable to find words to communicate and express his feelings and thoughts to his wife whom he loves.

With such a bleak storyline, there is humour scattered throughout this novel. The black humour which emerges is strikingly similar to that found Patrick McCabe’s stories. The narrators wear their hearts on their sleeves and display their internal response to an external disaster. Ryan effortlessly draws you into the lives of these individuals. Even though this is a work of fiction, you cannot help feeling how it does truly reflect the lives of so many in Ireland today. Similar to the characters found in Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin who live their lives in the face of adversity, we see how each character manages to do likewise in The Spinning Heart.