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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 25 August 2019

"The Spinning Heart" by Donal Ryan

This book was longlisted for the Booker and the Guardian First Book Award in 2013; it won Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards in 2012.

Eire following the financial crisis. One moment houses were being built all over the place, the next no one wants to buy them. Pokey Burke's building firm has gone bust, leaving a whole community full of unemployed men who hadn't realised Pokey wasn't paying their stamps or their tax and a ghost estate with just two inhabited houses.

This is a tale told by many different people. It starts with Bobby Mahon, Pokey's foreman and all round good guy except that he hates his father. It encompasses Pokey's father, who gave the building firm to his son when he retired, and Pokey's lesbian sister. It includes the town whore who sent her son to law school. It includes Realtin, the young girl living in one of the two houses with her son, Dylan, and Dylan's father, local lothario Seanie Shaper. It includes the corner and cost-cutting owner of the day care nursery which Dylan attends, and the male Montessori-qualified teacher who gets a job at the nursery, and his computer-game addicted friend. It ends with Bobby's wife.

Almost half way through Bobby's father is murdered and Dylan is kidnapped. Of course we want to know whodunnit, and is the kid OK? But these plot-chasing urges are secondary to the joy of listening to these tangled testimonies from a close-knit town whose ideas of what is right and what is wrong are being challenged by the shock of the recession.

Beautiful writing.

Some of my favourite moments:
  • 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. Every day he lets me down. He hasn't yet missed a day of letting me down. He smiles at me; that terrible smile. He knows I'm coming to check is he dead.” (Bobby)
  • There are many ways, you know, to kill a man, especially an old, frail man, which wouldn't look like murder. It wouldn't be murder anyway, just putting the skids under nature.” (Bobby)
  • They loved him, or loved the thought of him, what they thought he was: a man who could easily have had a good life who chose instead their life: spite and bitterness and age-fogged glasses of watery whiskey in dark, cobwebbed country bars, shit-smeared toilets, blood-streaked piss, and early death. He could have helped it but didn't. They couldn't help it and loved him for being worse than them. He was the king of the wasters. He bought drink for men he didn't like and listen to their yarns and their sodden stories.” (Bobby)
  • Sober, he was a watcher, a horror of a man who missed nothing and commented on everything.” (Bobby)
  • "Here am I, like an orphaned child, bereft, filling up with the fear like a boat filling with water.” (Bobby)
  • Isn't it a secret duty, to rear your children? I got that all turned around in my head, of course. I confused providing for them with rearing them. I got a fixation on work and having enough money that waxed and waned for my whole adult life, but was always there.” (Josie)
  • Pokey ...had a ledger inside his head in which every single move I made was entered, and it never, ever balanced in his favour.” (Josie)
  • She thought I couldn't understand. She was right and wrong: I didn't know the words, just their meaning.” (Vasya)
  • The Irish men would look at me in mock astonishment and then look at each other and roar with laughter ... I would feel happy, and then remember to be ashamed of myself for being a clown to please other men.” (Vasya)
  • It kills Daddy not to be able to talk to him about hurling and cars and machinery and whatever men do be fascinated by when they're not ruining women's lives.” (Realtin)
  • We're all afraid of our lives of upsetting our parents. Why is it at all? Why have we to be bound by this fear of the feelings of others?” (Brian)
  • Schizophrenia is splitting in two and then falling to pieces.” (Trevor)
  • I know I shouldn't think these things over and over again but you may as well ask a bee to leave the flowers alone.” (Bridie)
  • “I still believe I did good work at the convent with those unfortunate young ladies. I made them feel good about themselves and showed them how to give a handjob without rupturing a man's helmet.That's a valuable lifeskill.” (Seanie)
  • I'd say your man just wanted a job where he wouldn't have to be near manly men, spitting and farting talking about their balls and making each other feel like shit about themselves. Why do fellas do that? They’re always slagging each other and calling each other queer and trying to outdo each other like fools.” (Kate)
  • Sweat is fine when it's fresh, on lovely hard muscle, but when it's dripping off a big flabby man-boob or dried into a filthy T-shirt it's a different thing altogether.” (Kate)
  • “What would Jesus have done? ... How would I know what Jesus would have done?That fella was a mass of contradictions as far as I can see. One minute he says to turn the other cheek, the next minute he's having a big strop and kicking over lads’ market stalls. He says blessed are the meek and he goes round shouting and roaring the odds to everyone. He rises from the dead and then shags off a few weeks later and leaves his buddies in the shit.” (Rory)
  • Leaving the herd isn’t safe. You’re the loose gazelle that the lion will chase.” (Mags)
  • There’s no man on this earth can even be assured he'll have a next day.” (Frank)
  • He spent a whole day with his bony arse in the air as he chipped and hacked and sanded, an acute angle of unnatural adolescent concentration.” (Triona)
  • Some people, like Bobby, take on the troubles of others and others can't see anything past their own.” (Triona)
  • "Jesus, the sweet scandal, it must have been almost too rich for their pill-thinned blood." (Triona)
August 2019; 156 pages

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