What matters only love

This is my review of The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan.

This is oddly reminiscent of "Under Milkwood", perhaps because it uses the poetical yet often also earthy voices of a variety of characters to capture the spirit of a rural community. A short intense and condensed novel, with all the flesh of scene-setting and background information stripped away, it comprises twenty-one internal monologues which combine to show how the collapse of the building boom in Ireland wreaked havoc on the already sad and dysfunctional lives of many ordinary people.

Pain is piled on by the shovel-load, and it would all be unbearably bleak but for the author's ear for the poetry and droll wit of the Irish way with words. There is continuous entertainment in not only the language but the links between the various characters, their different readings of situations, and the poignant plot which gradually emerges around the ever-present figure of the charismatic but troubled Bobby Mahon. Donal Ryan is prepared to take risks: one "voice" is a ghost in limbo, and I was unsure for a while if another was not a "split personality".

If there are flaws in this original book, one is that some of the "losers" portrayed are a little too similar and so seem superfluous, another that many characters share the same streak of repressed violence plus a fundamentally introspective, articulate, self-aware voice that is probably too much that of the author. At times, I felt I was being told too explicitly what to think about a particular person, as in the case of Bobby's embittered father Frank, rather than left to deduce it for myself. The style is less convincing when Ryan abandons his Irish patter, as for patriarch Josie Burke's educated liberal lesbian daughter Mags.

Although my interest flagged a little in the middle of a book which seemed to have "made its point" about the state of Ireland quite quickly, what proves to be a carefully constructed tale twists to an effective ending.

Overall, it is an impressive first novel, which repays a second reading.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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