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The Spinning Heart By Donal Ryan-A Brief Introduction

donalryanThe Spinning Heart is Donal Ryan’s first published novel. Set in a small town in rural Ireland circa 2010, it gives voice to the confusion and uncertainty felt by twenty one different characters in a period of great upheaval in their lives. In many ways, the book is a fictional chronicle of the living present as it delves deep into the people and place it aims to describe.

As the reader of these stories you may feel like the local parish priest sitting in a confession box, or a therapist with a notepad on your lap, as it is unclear who the characters are speaking to. Either way, you will discover the innermost thoughts of a variety of characters yet find they are not all too dissimilar from each other. Bobby Mahon can’t “find the words” to talk to his wife. Réaltín tries to hide her “lonely life”. Brian doesn’t want to be the “tragic figure” of an unemployed young man going abroad. They are all caught in a difficult time in their life and are always regretting the past and looking to the future.

Put simply, these are stories about life, how we all suffer loss, are sometimes capsized by love and go from day to day, chasing, earning, worrying about or contemplating the role of money in our lives. Change proves difficult for the people in The Spinning Heart to accept or initiate. The community they knew and their place within it is being uncontrollably altered and the confusion that results forms a strong thread between each narrative in the novel.

Ryan leads you, by way of a virtuoso talent to tell stories and connect them seamlessly into a private world where people’s real thoughts and feelings are expounded upon. There is so much suppressed anguish on almost every page that what remains untold by each character adds a great poignancy to events as they unfold.

The Spinning Heart gives a strong impression of a novel keen to emphasize the place of stories in our lives. Why do we tell them, retell old ones and seek out new ones? Maybe because it is stories that sustain us and so we are in thrall to their power over us. Ryan presents these stories without judgement and boldly attempts to shed light on many people forgotten by society at large. There could have been no time for nostalgia to play a part in the writing of this novel because in reality these stories of empty housing estates, young people without jobs and families struggling to remain close are part of the Ireland that exists today.

One of the most revealing lines in the book is when Lily says “Wasn’t I at least the author of my own tale”? Each character wants to give their side of the story and yet you will often find contradictory versions of events from another character when retelling the same incident. The idea that we have increasingly less control over our public personas is at the fore front of their minds and there is a definite urge for people to let their voices be heard due to a lack of an alternative outlet to do so.

The hope for this novel would have to be as follows; today’s reader will find it and gain some comfort from it-the language is wonderfully simple making it very accessible to all. But in the future it will cause great confusion for people who struggle to believe that things got so out of hand. Maybe it will be put on the Leaving Cert examination some year to torture the students who will struggle to relate to its source of inspiration.

Quite often a writer is praised from a height, criticized or worst of all-ignored. If you are not fond of altitude then I advise against reading this novel. Ryan has managed to delicately dramatize the unwavering difficulties faced by people in the course of a life time. And like Bridie, I felt “safe with hope” reading it.

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