100 Essential Books – The Spinning Heart – Donal Ryan (2012)


This is an extraordinary debut novel. It is set in small-town recession-hit Ireland where everyone knows everyone’s business and the departure of a bankrupt builder leads to a great hole in the community. Ex-foreman Bobby, the central character is given first shot as narrator and then the tale is told by twenty other narrators, developing the plot. No one is given a second bite of the cherry. This unusual device works so well, as within a few pages Ryan superbly creates each character through their own narration.  It is a book of voices, every one clear and vibrant. Each section could be read separately as a high-quality short story but when read as a whole it becomes a compelling first-rate novel of contemporary Ireland. It is a slim book and deceptively simple. Reading groups would love that a little analysis shows what a complex piece of work this and marvel at how a whole community , could be created in so few words: Wonderful, economic writing. “The Spinning Heart” is a superb achievement by Donal Ryan. fivestars

This review first appeared in New Books – the magazine for readers and reading groups.