Donal Ryan achieves a remarkable feat in The Spinning Heart. In this very short novel, he manages to depict the effects of the recent Irish financial collapse from the viewpoints of 21 different small town residents. (My caveat: I didn’t actually count them. I am relying for the number on an article about the novel.)
First we hear from Bobby Mahon, who is absorbed in his contempt for his father Frank and his betrayal by his employer. Frank drank away his own inheritance, his father’s farm, and as soon as it was gone, stopped drinking. This all because Bobby’s grandfather said that at least Frank, at that time a teetotaler, wouldn’t drink away the farm. Frank himself was so verbally abusive that Bobby and his beloved mother stopped talking to each other to avert his wrath. That pretense eventually grew into an actual estrangement.
Bobby was the foreman of a crew for a successful construction company until the downturn, when the company folded and the boss, Pokey, disappeared. Now, Bobby and the other men have found out that Pokey did not pay in for their government benefits, instead pocketing the money, so none of them will get unemployment or their pensions.
Josie, Pokey’s father, laments his decision to turn his company over to Pokey and feels sorry for the men left without an income. He blames himself for loving Pokey’s other brother more than Pokey.
Vasya, a contract construction worker from the Caucasus, has even fewer options than Bobby and his men. He relates how Pokey gave him a ride and lied to him about work the last time he saw him, on Pokey’s way out of town.
And so the novel goes, written in many different voices in Irish slang. As the novel moves forward, tensions rise, finally ending in violence. A well-regarded young man is accused of murder. A small child is kidnapped.
Using an unusual technique, this novel conveys the perspective of an entire small community and the impact the economic calamity has had on all their lives. Surprisingly, considering the subject matter, the book is rough and funny, as well as poignant.