The best word to describe the relationship between Bobby and his father is toxic. Everyday Bobby travels back to the little cottage in which he grew up to check if his father is still alive, and everyday Bobby is disappointed to find that he is. There is a red metal heart in the centre of the gate to the cottage, rusted, paint flaking off, a metaphor for his father’s equally broken down heart. We find later in the book that his father had an eerily similar relationship with his own father.
Ireland is still reeling from financial collapse and recession when Pokey Burke, Bobby’s boss, disappears owing Bobby and many others money and wages. Bobby was the foreman of a building crew, looked up to by the lads, but secretly lacking confidence and seeing himself as a coward, a failure, searching for reasons as to why his wife sticks by his side.
Bobby is the dominant, central character in, for such a short novel, a massive cast of twenty-one. These character’s personal narratives are woven together to form the story that is The Spinning Heart. With all these characters, we can see the debilitating effects that a national crisis has on a small rural town. How the recession seems to amplify and exacerbate smaller personal problems.
At times the town almost feels like a puzzle and each character an integral piece needed to piece together the overall story. Each piece or character will often have links to other characters and the reader may learn more about a character from another character’s perspective. This brings to the fore, a major theme of this novel. Misconception and how, with lack of information, or the prevalence of rumours, how easy it is to judge somebody erroneously. We bear witness to how these erroneous views can have drastic, fatal consequences, at the end of the book.
As we approach the end of the book, the narratives tend to get darker, with a child abduction and a murder rocking the little town. Again, rumours and innuendo cloud the character’s perspectives as the culprits are sought after.
Ryan returns to Bobby’s narrative at the end of the book and does a wonderful job of filling in the blanks and again showing us that time after time things are not what they seem, and how we confidently believe something to be how we perceive it may not be the correct perception at all.
Wonderful debut. 4 stars.
This was another buddy read with the wonderful Nat K and please stop and check out her review when she posts it.
Donal Ryan is the author of the novels The Spinning Heart, The Thing About December, the short-story collection A Slanting of the Sun, and the forthcoming novel All We Shall Know. He holds a degree in Law from the University of Limerick, and worked for the National Employment Rights Authority before the success of his first two novels allowed him to pursue writing as a full-time career.
There is a great interview with Ryan at Bookbrowse talking about The Spinnin Heart here - https://www.bookbrowse.com/author_interviews/full/index.cfm/author_number/2427/donal-ryan