The time is 2008, or so, the early days of the Great Recession in Ireland. The Celtic Tiger period of the 1990’s through the mid-2000’s was fed by direct foreign investment, a subsequent property bubble and lax bank lending standards. Unemployment in 2006 was 4.6%, in 2012 it was 15%, and among young workers, it was 33%. Ireland was hit hard; they could not replace the foreign capital that fled the country.
The Spinning Heart brings this macroeconomics down to the micro world of small town Ireland. A local contractor, headed by the scoundrel-son of a well-to-do citizen, flees the country in financial ruin, leaving his employees and his customers in a mess. And what a pretty pickle it is: job loss, broken hearts and marriages, sad stories as only the Irish reveal in literature.
This is a novel told from multiple points of view. Each chapter is a character, speaking in the first person. It takes a few chapters to see the web of plot holding them together. Even then, it is possible to miss links that would be clearer in a sequential novel.
The first-person narrative gives Ryan the opportunity to reveal the characters intimate thoughts and private actions. The writing is terse, with a good deal of Irish patois and grammatical rhythm. It takes a few re-reads to grasp the full meaning of some sentences, especially the articles and pronouns. This may be the reason for not seeing some of the plot links. But, stick with it. This is a worthy and engrossing read by an emergent Irish author.
Book awards for The Spinning Heart – not bad for a first published book.
• 2012: Irish Book Awards, winner, Newcomer of the Year (The Spinning Heart)
• 2012: Irish Book Awards, Book of the Year (The Spinning Heart)
• 2013: Booker Prize, longlist (The Spinning Heart)
• 2014: IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, shortlist (The Spinning Heart)
• 2013: Guardian First Book Award, winner (The Spinning Heart)
• 2015: European Union Prize for Literature (Ireland), winner (The Spinning Heart)