HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon February 28, 2014
(4.5 stars) Though he is one of the best-liked and most admired young men in the rural Irish village in which he lives, Bobby Mahon hates his father, and the feeling is mutual. Still, he visits him every day at his cottage "to see is he dead and every day he lets me down...He stays alive to spite me." Bobby, like the other employees of Pokey Burke, has been out of work for two months now, having lost everything in the financial troubles that hit Ireland after the economic "bubble" collapsed. To make things even worse, Pokey has absconded with all the funds that his employees had contributed for their pensions.
Using Bobby Mahon as the central character around whom most of the action revolves, debut novelist Donal Ryan writes a dramatic and affecting experimental novel in which the story and its symbols, such as the "spinning heart" on his father's gate, evolve through the points of view of twenty-one different characters, all of them living in the same town, knowing the same people, and contributing to the network of rumors and innuendos as members of "the Teapot Taliban," as one character calls them.
The village's young men, in particular, have especially serious problems during the recession, since they often feel that their efforts have been betrayed and their manhood compromised. One has decided to move to Australia, where he will try to find work. Three men have serious mental problems, made worse by the economic trauma. Among the women Lily has slept with half the town, but has somehow managed to put her son through college; Realtin, a woman whose small son Dylan becomes a major character in the action, shows the effects of the recession on building projects - only two of the 44-units where she lives are now occupied. A daycare owner has hired a male Montessori teacher to work for her, and she and has now taken advantage of a program which provides free childcare for a year to parents whose children are of pre-school age, and her business has taken off. Even a child mentions how her parents have been fighting because her father is out of work and her mother does not get enough hours working at Tesco's.
The breezy, casual, and often confidential stories the characters share with the reader range from darkly humorous to frightening, reflecting the uncertainties of life itself and the often dominating role played by the church and by the characters' unresolved issues regarding sex. The murder of one person and the kidnapping of another, while initially shocking, develop inexorably from the psychic atmosphere the author has created, and there is potential for even more violence. Ultimately, the novel broadens its scope from the small village to larger considerations of how we all become who we are, the roles of parents, their goals for us, how they communicate with us, the lessons they teach (sometimes inadvertently), and the role of institutions within the community (church, school, work, and even the pub). Author Donal Ryan's sense of the telling detail, the revealing comment, and the inner dialogues we have with ourselves creates a memorable novel which shows "from the inside" how the very fabric of a rural community is affected by unexpected acts of fate.