Donal Ryan’s “The Spinning Heart” long listed for 2013 Man Booker Prize

Donal Ryan’s relatively short debut novel, The Spinning Heart, is a collection of related vignettes illustrating the impact of the fallout from Ireland’s financial crisis on various members of a small, rural community.

Each of the 21 characters whose story is told in The Spinning Heart has to some extent been adversely affected by the collapse of Pokey Burke’s construction business. Some — like Bobby Mahon — have lost their jobs and pension entitlements as a consequence of being directly employed by Burke. Others are on “career break” because work has dried up as a result of the downturn in the construction industry.  Réaltín lives in one of two occupied houses in a ghost estate in the town. “There’s no one living in any of the other houses, just the ghosts of people who never existed,” she observes.

Meanwhile, some of those who do exist in this small, rural community are struggling to comprehend the new reality of economic collapse. “I see them in the village, shaking their heads at each other in disbelief, blaming everyone else.”

Jim blames the media: “I blame them bigmouths on the radio and the television for a log of this hysteria that’s after overtaking people. They fatten on the fear of others,” he believes.

Ironically, Pokey Burke is the only one whose point of view is not represented directly in this short collection which runs to just 160 pages. Plot is less significant than characterisation in The Spinning Heart where what is, perhaps, most significant is the language that Ryan uses which is rural and traditional while the tale being told is absolutely contemporary: an interesting juxtaposition in a very contemporary, believable and relevant debut novel.

The Spinning Heart is published by Doubleday Ireland. ISBN 9781448154036.