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Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars Honesty & Transparency, 27 July 2013
This review is from: The Spinning Heart (Hardcover)
This is Donal Ryan's debut novel which he wrote "in the long summer evenings of 2010". He lives with his wife and two children just outside of Limerick City and was born in north Tipperary.

Whilst it was released in October 2012 I have only recently picked up this book after seeing it make the longlist of the Man Booker Prize 2013.

This is a short novel (160 pages) that documents the monologues of 21 interwoven characters (no less!) following the aftermath of the recent financial crisis in Ireland. It is ambitious for a debut to shed classical form (i.e. proper punctuation and a linear narrative) in favour of a more honest and colloquial style but this modernity actually helps to enhance the necessary feeling of empathy that glues these chapters together. The book is instantly engaging but does become slightly weighed down in the middle by its colloquialism that at times is almost gossipy; to follow from this I also think a couple of the characters were not necessarily relevant. Aside from this heaviness in the middle it is a book that does eventually reward and stays with the reader for a while after too.

The delusion and greed that propelled the Irish property bubble (and every other such Financial bubble) is not so apparent at the time - indeed if you ask anyone in financial markets, its only with the benefit of hindsight that we can see the error of our ways - ironically its a tragedy of human evolution that we continually repeat the errors of the past. But without going off on too much of a tangent the key wisdom is that "its only when the tide goes out that you discover who's been swimming naked". This novel is an arresting tale of the hopes and promises that propel a society into an unsustainable state and then the subsequent truth and insight that is learnt when the proverbial hits the fan.

As each character retrospectively looks back on their lives there is an ongoing sense of sadness and regret about the way "nature overpowers" and deceives them; this tragedy is persistent throughout the novel. But perhaps the most moving passages of the book focus more on the revelations of how each character perceives one another. It is heartbreaking that despite all of our hopes and fears, reality is inevitably so far removed from our perception.

This is not just 21 separate stories - there is an interlinking plot that materialises towards the end that provides a backbone for the anthropological wisdom and amidst the chitter-chatter there are some wonderfully poetic phrases that resonate with you for long after you put the book down.

Donal Ryan's powerful debut is not fuelled with optimism but serves as a pragmatic reminder that "where light shines, a shadow is cast".
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