The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

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The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A story told in twenty one voices. The plot might be slight but the characters come off the page brilliantly and it's a masterpiece of construction. A good read and definitely an author to watch.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: June 2013
Publisher: Doubleday Ireland
ISBN: 978-1781620069

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Winner: 2013 Guardian First Book Award

My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in. I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down. He hasn't yet missed a day of letting me down.

This is how we meet Bobby - Bobby Mahon, as we'll learn - and he's brutally honest about his feelings for his father, who has deliberately drunk away the farm he inherited from his father. But Frank Mahon isn't Bobby's only, or even main, problem. He's been earning big money as Pokey Burke's foreman but the financial crash has hit and Pokey has done a runner. An investment in a fake island off Dubai finished him and now he's disappeared. On the estate of forty houses he was building, just two are occupied and the rutted roads are nothing more than a racetrack for the joyriders.

The title of the book comes from the heart set in Frank Mahon's wrought-iron gate. It's a red metal heart - or it would be if most of the paint hadn't flaked off - and because it needs oiling it creaks as it moves in the wind. It's an elegant metaphor for the state of rural Ireland. Donal Ryan allows twenty one people to tell the story, by telling their stories, which overlap to reveal the bigger picture. It's a masterpiece of construction, as each character gives us their story rather than their thoughts on the murder, or the missing child - or even the missing builder and the lack of money in the economy. You get to know people in a way which is usually only achieved in a short story, but here there's the bonus that twenty one short stories add up to something much bigger.

I'll confess that I picked this book up because it's on the 2013 Booker long list and I'm glad that I did. I was only a few pages in before I knew that this was something special and an author with a rare talent. The writing is perceptive, affectionate in the way that it teases out the best in people even when we might only see the worst. There's a dark humour in there too which occasionally caught me by surprise. The plot is slight, but that's not a criticism as the story is character-driven rather than plot driven. If I have to quibble it's that I found one or two of the voices difficult to place in the story, but any author who can produce this quantity and quality of individual authors has got to be someone to watch for the future.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this, their first book, to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then we think that you might also enjoy Taking Pictures by Anne Enright.

Booklists.jpg The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan is in the Man Booker Prize 2013.

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Buy The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan at


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