Donal Ryan - The Spinning Heart

The Spinning Heart - Donal Ryan

I didn’t think I would enjoy this novel, or rather novella. I’m wary of those 160 page books; they often seem so lazy in execution, like something the writer just phoned in. You know, you start and immediately you get, ekhm, the sense of an ending.

Additionally, the cover of ‘The Spinning Heart’ looked dangerously close to Alan Hollinghurst ‘The Line of Beauty’, so I expected the book to be half-assed and derivative, as well as full of bleakness steeped in alcohol (it being an Irish book).

As you can see, I started reading this choice of my book club with my head full of misconceptions. I was so adamant in my prejudice that it wasn’t until somewhere halfway through when I finally admitted to myself that ‘The Spinning Heart’ was. in fact, quite wonderful, although there is a lot of bleakness steeped in alcohol, as it would be unavoidable in a book which takes place in rural Ireland in the wake of the financial crash. I honestly don’t know what Irish writers did during their country sudden and short-lived but amazing prosperity. No one wants to hear about that.

Every tiny chapter of 'The Spinning Heart' is narrated by a different character who takes the stage to tell their story. All of them have their unique voices and personalities so Ryan’s narrative and characterization skills can't be faulted. The plot is interwoven with the stories so seamlessly that the characters never seem like props to push the plot along. They are definitely there to get something of their chests and are completely unaware of the little bits they drop in that let us know where the story is going.

The book opens with Bobby’s chapter and we immediately paint him in our heads the way he sees himself – a rather average, morally flawed ‘culchie’. It’s only when we hear about him from other characters he grows in our eyes and eventually becomes a village hero. I absolutely loved putting different glasses on with every chapter and looking at the same community from a different vantage point. As usual, I did feel most for the obvious nutters (coincidentally – Telegraph’s reviewer identified three nutters. I only remember two. I missed a nutter?)

‘The Spinning Heart’ might be often bleak but it is also funny, tender and many other things and made me wonder how it was exactly possible for it to be so full and rich while being so short. It reads like a much longer book. And it’s cracking! I also think it could be beautifully adapted for stage.