book review: The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan




Doubleday Ireland, 2012


The Spinning Heart is just tremendously, unbelievably good.  Set in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, Donal Ryan chronicles the impact of the recession on a close-knit rural community.  With about twenty different points of view, the chapters are short, each a couple of pages long, and the novel is bookended by chapters from a married couple, Bobby and Triona.  Bobby is the novel’s central character, each of the other characters connected to his story in some way, but it’s hard to give a plot synopsis without giving anything away.  Suffice to say it opens with the brilliant lines “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.”

Though The Spinning Heart is Ryan’s debut, this is my third novel by him, and I think it’s safe to say that it’s cemented him as one of my all-time favorites.  His prose is just top-notch, lyrical and evocative, and he has a way of capturing the distinct voice of each of his narrators while still allowing his own style to creep in – I just find it so compelling and pleasurable to read any of his books.  The plot isn’t heavy in this one, though there’s a kidnapping and a murder going on in the background, but it was still hard for me to put it down.  In fact, I’d recommend reading it in as few sittings as possible, lest you begin to forget the hundred names you’re meant to be keeping track of.  Though I’d argue that if you forget who’s who a couple of times, as long as you remember who Bobby is, the impact won’t really be lessened.  This ultimately succeeds as a portrait of a community economically depressed, and is more about the overall effect that Ryan achieves with the panoply of voices, rather than the intricacies of the characters’ lives.

Anyway, as I’m sure you can tell, I loved this. Maybe not QUITE as much as I loved All We Shall Know, but it’s close.

You can pick up a copy of The Spinning Heart here on Book Depository.


14 thoughts on “book review: The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

  1. I’m puzzled. You really liked this book (and I agree it’s excellent) but yet you rated it only two stars. Why is that?


    • I had to break it up into two sittings and I do think it suffered A BIT for that – I should have pushed through and kept my momentum up! Still a brilliant book though, I’m so glad I read it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooh, great review! I’ve been meaning to read more Donal Ryan ever since From a Low and Quiet Sea, but haven’t gotten around to it yet! I have All We Shall Know sitting on my shelf and am thrilled to see that it’s your favorite Donal Ryan; I’ll have to be sure to pick up The Spinning Heart as well, afterward!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. All shall we know was brilliant indeed ! I have The Spinning on my heart for ages but kept postponing my reading, so now I will ! I read his other book (Jonny .. can’t remember the title) and didn’t love it as much as All shall we now. Glad to see his books on your blog 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’d highlyyyy recommend The Spinning Heart if you loved All We Shall Know! It’ll definitely remind you of everything there is to love about his writing.


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