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The Spinning Heart

By: Donal Ryan

Publication Date: October 2012

(11 customer reviews)







‘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. He hasn’t yet missed a day of letting me down.’

The fallout of Ireland’s financial collapse provokes dangerous tensions in a small Irish town. As the consequences of greed affect an entire community, a drama of kidnap and murder unfolds. Through a chorus of unique voices, each struggling with their own version of truth, a single authentic tale emerges.

This exhilarating debut captures the language and spirit of rural Ireland. Taking on the mantle of Synge and O’Casey, the author expresses the torment and tenderness of a generation. Witty, dark and poignant, The Spinning Heart speaks for contemporary Ireland like no other novel.


DONAL RYAN was born in a village in North Tipperary.. He wrote the first draft of The Spinning Heart in the long summer evenings of 2010. He lives just outside Limerick city with his wife and two young children.


‘What a writer! The best first novel I’ve read in years and years and years.Jennifer Johnston

‘Structurally [The Spinning Heart] gestures to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, while Ryan’s sensitive observations on Irish life seem responsive to the work of his compatriot Patrick McCabe. That Ryan does not look out of place in such literary company is a measure of his achievement.’ The Financial Times

‘Of course, the traditional epithet for a good first novelis ‘promising’. The Spinning Heart, however, is far more than that. Instead, it’s the unambiguous announcement of a genuine and apparently fully formed new talent.’ The Spectator

‘I was hugely impressed by The Spinning Heart. There will be many novels which explore the effect of the crash on the people of Ireland but I can’t imagine a more original, more perceptive or more passionate work than this. Outstanding.’ John Boyne

Click here for a glowing review of The Spinning Heart in The Independent, and here to see the author reading at Kennys Bookshop, Galway.




11 reviews for The Spinning Heart

  1. Lilliput Press

    “The Spinning Heart is a metal heart, set in the gate of Frank Mahon’s house. It spins round and round in the wind, never going anywhere.

    The novel opens with a first person narrative from Bobby Mahon. Bobby was a builder’s foreman, working for his old friend Pokey Burke. As is well documented, the Irish economy benefited enormously from a property bubble in the 1990s-2000s and some people got very rich, very quickly. But by the time we meet Bobby, the bubble has burst; the Celtic Tiger has lost its roar. Pokey has scarpered, leaving his workmen and his investors in deep trouble. Bobby’s immediate financial problems would be eased greatly if his father would only die and leave Bobby his land whilst it still had some small amount of value. But Frank seems to get healthier by the minute and Bobby sits watching the price of land trickling away to nothing.

    After a few pages, the narrative baton passes on to Josie, and then on through a series of 21 different narrators. At first it seems as though each narrator is just giving a different perspective on the same predicament. But as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that each narrative adds to the detail of a quite distinct plot. But given the individual perspectives, it is interesting to sometimes see the same events told through very different lenses. The reader’s perceptions of people need to be constantly readjusted.

    Telling a story with 21 points of view, none of which is revisited, is an immense feat of skill. That the narratives manage to convince, written in differing voices and dialects that sound authentic and avoid sounding samey, is a work of genius. Donal Ryan avoids the temptation to give characters tics or quirks and this can make the reader want to zip back and check previous passages just to confirm who is who. But at the same time, Ryan uses enough signposts to guide an alert reader around the narrative.

    The novel is short, but there’s a lot in it and it isn’t a terribly quick read. The voices do slow the reader down – and that’s necessary if the reader isn’t going to miss out on vital detail. There are sub-plots and scheming, most of which make sense. There is an excellent insight into the petty rivalries and jealousies between smalltown Ireland and “the boondocks”. The novel is set in Tipperary, but it could just as easily be in Cavan, or Louth, or Offally or Carlow. The shattered dreams are found all over Ireland and these responses to the slump will stand to tell future generations just how bad it got.

    The Spinning Heart is a novel that has humanity and warmth amongst the heartbreak. It is compelling reading and has a social importance. And like the spinning heart of the title, it shows that what goes around, comes around.”

  2. Lilliput Press

    “This is a modern book in the tradition of great Irish writers like John McGahern, it left my head and my heart spinning and longing for more. Original in its style, wonderful storytelling. It is a long time since I enjoyed a book as much.” MICHAEL HAND

  3. Lilliput Press

    “Astounding first novel. Very moving, thought provoking and funny, perceptive, lyrical, it has everything. I think that Donal Ryan belongs up there with some of the greatest Irish writers. I loved this book.” ANNIE

  4. Lilliput Press

    “This book sums up so much of what happened to Ireland in recent years. I found the characterisations touching and the despair engendered in small communities beautifully described. The writing is delicate and, although the plot(s) verge sometimes on the theatrical, they are believable in the light of the financial collapse. This book should appeal to anyone who enjoys reading about the effects of distant events on the lives of ordinary people.” HELEN B

  5. Lilliput Press

    “Thoroughly enjoyed this book as will anyone ‘suffering ‘ in the present recession. The characters are very real and familiar. They encapsulate all human traits, the good and the bad. The story is told with lots of humour which is how we Irish ‘get through’ tough times. This story is applicable to any town in Ireland. Be prepared for some strong language and reminded me of Roddy Doyle’s style.” MARY J

  6. Lilliput Press

    “After many, many recommendations for this book, I finally got to it and finished it in days, would’ve been hours if I’d had the spare time! Such a well written and grasping story and I felt like I knew every character in the book, probably because being from ‘small town Ireland’ I kind of do!
    Loved the character development through other characters and the many twists so subtly included.
    And reading it whilst living abroad made it even more so enjoyable, reminded me of the many characters and stories, both sad and entertaining I’ve grown up with over the years.
    A must read.” M LYNCH

  7. Lilliput Press

    “Perhaps it’s because I’m from a very similar background to the author and of a very similar age also, but from the very first page these characters, their stories and the setting the book is placed literally jumped off the page at me.
    As a study in modern day rural Ireland it is eerily accurate. While the idiomatic speech may well be impenetrable to outsiders take it from someone born in Tipperary (as the author was) its spot on.
    It’s his ability to see inside the bluster of that speech however and cut to the very bone of his protagonists is what sets this book apart. Whilst the writing is of exceptional standard the story is progressed in an unconventional way and as such may not be to all tastes. This short novel is in my view a wonderful study in both the hope and despair life throws at us often in equal measure. It is a work of massive literary control to have so many different voices all of which rang wonderfully true for this reader.
    In conclusion I think this book is the first work of Irish literary fiction to capture the essence of the “now” in the Irish psyche. I haven’t read Roddy Doyles new work yet which may well do the same in an urban setting.
    The writer here is using the Irish economic collapse to frame his story but not to define it, the characters do that and I for one came to love some of them by the end of this fantastic little book.” PAT EGAN

  8. Lilliput Press

    “This is a very unusual book and the reader has to get used to the unfamiliar language and the very Irish modes of expression. The book is structured into short autobiographical chapters and following the story is quite hard work. You have to concentrate hard to piece together the individual autobiographies to get the hang of the relations between the characters. But the writing itself is brilliant: the autobiographies are bleak but often very funny; grim yet poignant, and dark and sinister yet surprisingly tender.” J BALDWIN

  9. Lilliput Press

    “This marvellous small novel by Donal Ryan is in my view an achievement of astounding calibre.
    The storytelling is absolutely wonderful and it gives this book a certain top-notch quality.
    The book describes the feelings of people, 21 in all, in very fine details and the author has the ability to put his characters in a real humanly fashion.
    It tells us a tale of a particular historic event, the first big financial crisis of the 21st Century, with great conviction about the hearts and minds of a group of people in rural Ireland where this financial crisis ruled and influenced the lives of these people enormously.
    This piece of Irish history also pictures the surroundings of the people in this part of rural Ireland in a real-like way during the time of recession and disturbing unsettling circumstances, and thus also how people try to cope with it all.
    A book which has been written with a heartfelt passion, for it brings to life the hard and unjust times that each of us had to endure, the common people in particular, in trying to survive this crisis.
    This is a most wonderful little novel with a strong character and thus certainly one that I want to call as “A Very Promising Debut”! CLEMENS SCHOONDERWOERT

  10. Lilliput Press

    “I bought this excellent novel after reading the author’s second book “The Thing About December” first and thoroughly enjoying it. Paradoxically the events of “The Spinning Heart” are set about 10 years after those of “The Thing About December” . “The Spinning Heart” is set in a village in rural Ireland just after the “Celtic Tiger” boom years came to a crashing halt. An important construction employer has gone bust and fled the country leaving behind him a mess; unfinished houses, unemployed workers, penury and mental illness. A gripping plot unfolds as the book devotes a chapter each to a series of characters from the village who tell their own ,often moving , stories . These fascinating accounts all combine to tell a tale of loneliness, violence, frustration and desperation and provide a brilliant snapshot of life in 21st Century Ireland. The author has a great talent for characterisation and all of the characters in this novel, despite often only having a few pages to tell their stories ,are all three dimensional and as large as life, baring their souls for the reader. I have given 5 stars to both of Donal Ryan’s novels in my Amazon reviews and I really hope he continues to write such absorbing, page turning , sparkling books in future.” L DAVIDSON

  11. Lilliput Press

    ‘What is so special about Ryan’s novel is that it seems to draw speech out of the deepest silences; the testimony of his characters rings rich and true – funny and poignant and banal and extraordinary.’ THE GUARDIAN

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Weight 0.380 kg
Dimensions 150 × 220 mm
Publication Date

October 2012


Hardback, 160pp