The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

(Book 149) Geri hosted seven of us for a discussion of The Spinning Heart. She told us about having talked to a friend who suggested she serve three kinds of salmon and three kinds of potatoes. The three kinds of potatoes were clear homage to the Irish setting, characters, author. Many of the book club girls tried to tell Geri that this woman was not her friend, but I understand excessive behavior more than most and I’m going on record as saying it would have been heartbreaking if the salmon en croute had been left out. It had to be.

She started us out with a tray of yummy cheeses while she completed preparations in her kitchen. The meal was a green crunchy salad, boiled potatoes scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, salmon with a brown sugar glaze, salmon with a maple glaze, and salmon en croute with cream cheese and dill. I couldn’t have done without it. For dessert Geri made a an amazing Guinness chocolate cake with Bailey’s flavored icing. She put seven candles on it, one for each of my seven decades. (These girls spoil me — Geri sent a huge slice home with me too. If you happen to talk to my husband, however, it was more of a sliver. ) She also served a delicious bread pudding, a dessert her mother used to make. It was way more work than she should have done, but it was hugely appreciated. Each of us is worried about the next time we host.

The Spinning Heart was written in 2012 and is described as follows:

“In the aftermath of Ireland’s financial collapse, dangerous tensions surface in an Irish town. Through a chorus of unique voices, each struggling to tell their own kind of truth, a single authentic tale unfolds.The Spinning Heart speaks for contemporary Ireland like no other novel. Wry, vulnerable, all-too human, it captures the language and spirit of rural Ireland and with uncanny perception articulates the words and thoughts of a generation. Technically daring and evocative of Patrick McCabe and J.M. Synge, this novel of small-town life is witty, dark and sweetly poignant. It was the Winner of two Irish Book Awards – Newcomer of The Year and Book of The Year. It was a Library Journal Best Book of the Year for 2014, a Boston Globe bestseller and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.” 

Mary commented that she appreciated the way the book begins with Bobby and ends with his wife, Triona. Though there is a rumor repeated by two or three characters in between, that Bobby is having an affair, Triona is completely confident in her husband’s love and fidelity as is evidenced by the last line of the book: “What matters only love?” Some of the girls thought the story was just too sad, and while I understand that criticism, it seemed to also offer such hope. More than that, it was riddled with a dark humor that begins with the second sentence. The book starts:

“My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in. I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down. He hasn’t yet missed a day of letting me down.”

Bobby’s appreciation of his marriage was endearing:

“Having a wife is great. You can say things to your wife that you never knew you thought. It just comes out of you when the person you’re talking to is like a part of yourself. We wet to a play in town one time; I can’t remember the name of it. You couldn’t do that without a wife. Imagine it being found out that you went to see a play, on your own! With a woman, you have an excuse for every kind of soft thing.”

Melissa thought that the book was too complicated by the sub-plots that I won’t go into for spoiler purposes. (I’m pretending other people read these posts.) I just thought it was genius the way the story came through the interconnections of the 21 voices. Though we didn’t rate last month’s book, because it was a collection of short stories, we jumped back on the rating bandwagon with this one. Marcia gave it three stars; Sharon and Melissa gave it 3.5; Susan, Geri, Mary and Chris gave it four stars and I gave it five. That gives it an average of 3.88. A couple of the girls complained that they were chastised for giving previous books five stars, and though I don’t think I was ever critical of anyone’s rating, I have often said that it is very hard for me to give a book a five, that I am stingy with my star ratings. I just thought this book was something close to, if not, genius when I read it the first time and I knew that I wanted to share it with my book club pals!

Our next meeting will be hosted by Chris on Wednesday, October 26, when we will discuss An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears. It’s a thick book and I have been advised to start reading it right away, so this will conclude my post for September.

One Reply to “The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan”

  1. Teresa left out the ending of the chapter entitled Bobby about his saying “it’s great to have a wife because you can say things to her you never knew you thought.” It’s about the play he & Triona went to &how the actor in it never told his wife how much he loved her & in the car going home, Bobby cried & Triona said “oh love, oh love.” Isn’t that enough to make it at least a “4”!???????????

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