Author: Donal Ryan
Book: The Spinning Heart
This was one of my airport bookshop buys – from Belfast, NI, where I also bought one of my favourite books in translation, Strange Weather in Tokyo, a few years ago. Not the same airport, though, in case you want to be pedantic; though both had a shelf or two dedicated to Irish writers. Perhaps I should have chosen some James Joyce – I've still not read Ulysses, for instance – but with little room in my hand luggage, I needed to opt for something a bit slimmer. Added to that, this is a debut novel – and there's always something intriguing about that – with enough good reviews to start its own fan club.
And I'd pay my dues. Donal Ryan's story of a rural Ireland struggling after the financial collapse of 2008 makes a strong impression. Each chapter brings in a new resident, each individually interesting yet each adding something to the narrative, centred around the implosion of a property developer. The strength of their voices, the use of colloquial language are what gives this novel is its texture and soul; their individual accounts of poverty, ambition, moral strength and weakness, of acceptance and hatred. It was easy to be absorbed by these rich pen portraits, so easy that, like every day life, it's not until the worst has happened that we can see all the forces conspiring to enable it. Empty promises and empty houses lead to a terrible act.
I loved how vividly the thoughts and feelings of Ryan's characters came across, how he balanced poetry with realism, how strongly this felt like an 'Irish' book – rooted in place and recent history. Next stop, Joyce.