Wednesday’s Review ~ The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

Cover of The Spinning Heart_Audio
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

Published by: Steerforth Press

Published on: February 25, 2014

Page Count: 160

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Reading Format: Audiobook provided to me by the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer program.

Audiobook Published by: Steerforth Press

Narrator: Wayne Farrell

Audiobook Length: 4 hours 48 minutes

Available Formats: Paperback, eBook, and Audiobook

Summary from the Publisher:

In the aftermath of Ireland’s financial collapse, dangerous tensions surface in an Irish town. As violence flares, the characters face a battle between public persona and inner desires. Through a chorus of unique voices, each struggling to tell their own kind of truth, a single authentic tale unfolds.

My Review

A good Irish novel speaks to me like none other. Such was the case with The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan. This novel, which sheds a little light on the lives of 21 people who live in small Irish as well as tells the overarching story of the Mahon family, is heartbreaking. These people are trying to eke out a life in the midst of an economic depression that has cost their town so much. At the same time, it is utterly human. On the surface I share very little in common with these characters, but as I read I found that not to be true at all. If I couldn’t see myself in them, I certainly felt their pain and empathized with their shortcomings and bitterness. The entire time I listened to this audiobook I wished that humans could communicate their thoughts and pain with each other the way in which Ryan captured their inner hearts. There would be so much less heartache in this world if we could simply open up and be honest with the ones we love.

I listened to this audiobook at an auspicious time in my life. There are many things I’m coming to understand about myself and my life. It’s funny how it’s taken me 42 years to learn to accept and love myself. When you do that, you can no longer sit back and casually accept living your life in a dead man’s float. I’ve been introspective, doing my best to start cleaning out the crap I’ve accumulated inside of myself over the years. I will never forget that Saturday in the post office parking lot when I got to Brian’s story. He is a young man making plans to leave home to go to Australia. He wasn’t going out on his own so much to make his own life as he was clinging to an escape. As I was listening to his story, I acknowledged to myself that I’ve been doing the exact same thing. I’ve been escaping from my past and my present for a long time now. There’s no future in doing that. This very last paragraph brought me to tears.

I saw Bobby Mahon this morning, over beyond at the Height. I was up with the da, pulling weeds and letting on to be praying for the souls of the Faithful Departed. I might as well humour his another while, in fairness. Bobby was coming over the stile beside the locked gate as we came to it. He’s meant to be tapping a flaker of a wan from town that used to go with Seanie Shaper that bought one of the houses in Pokey Burke’s estate of horrors. There’s war over it. You should see his wife as well, your wan Triona – she’s a ride and a half. Bobby is a pure bull, though, so he is. He probably rides the two of them every day. Things come easy to guys like Bobby Mahon. He’s not the brightest star in the firmament, but he’s a proper man. He has nothing to prove. Kenny reckons he’s like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke; no fucker could break him. He wore his hurley off of the McDonagh’s full forward at the end of The County Final We Nearly Won. Then he flung it away and lamped five or six fellas before Jim Gildea the sergeant and about twelve other bollockses got between him and the McDonagh’s boys. I was only a small boy at the time. I wanted to be Bobby Mahon. I still do, imagine. I’m some loser. Why can’t I want to be me?

I preordered the book right then and there because I knew Brian’s story was a story I would need to revisit often as a reminder of how hard it struck me.

As I mentioned, this novel is a collection of character snapshots that relate back to the story of Bobby Mahon and his family. When casting this audiobook, the publisher could have used numerous narrators to give voice to the many men and women who make the story complete. Steerforth Press chose to have one narrator perform each character and the effect was brilliant. I was amazed at Wayne Farrell’s work throughout. Each character was unique and narrated with the dignity his or her story required. I could easily imagine myself as a taxi driver picking up a new fare with each chapter. Farrell may not have many titles to his credit yet, but his work on The Spinning Heart never betrayed it. This title is worthy of an Audie nomination. If you’re an audiobook fan, keep him in your sights.

I reread sections of The Spinning Heart as soon as my paperback copy arrived in the mail. I relived the stories but was also glad that I experienced it first in audio. Ryan writes with the vernacular of the character’s small Irish town, so I was glad to have Wayne Farrell’s narration in my ears as I reread it. I never could have pronounced some of the names on my own and there are turns of phrase would have seemed Greek to my eyes that were lovely and full of meaning as they flowed from Farrell’s tongue. Had I picked up the paperback first, some of Donal Ryan’s gorgeous writing may have been lost on my American eyes. It’s a blessing to have such easy access to audiobooks.

Many thank Donal Ryan for hitting me where I live and Wayne Ferrell for making The Spinning Heart come to life so vividly. I treasure this book and the experience of reading it. It will be a difficult task to top this audiobook this year.

1 Comment

  • At 2014.03.05 18:13, Sandy said:

    Wow, what a review! Not sure I have any other choice than to listen to it. And oh I DO love Irish accents. I hope I can get my hands on this.

    (Required, will not be published)

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