'Spinning Heart' Portrays Those Abandoned By the Celtic Tiger

Fiction can often describe reality more fully than any number of newspaper articles or TV broadcasts. The Spinning Heart is about the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, told in the interconnected lives of people in a small Irish town. In 21 brief chapters, the characters take turns describing their bleak present and shattered hopes.

The local builder, Pokey Burke, has not only gone broke but suddenly fled the country. His workers, unemployed with no chance of a new job, discover that they can’t even get the dole because he never made any social welfare payments.

Pokey’s former foreman says: “I showed the little blond girl at the hatch my last pay slip. You could see clearly what was taken out: PRSI, PAYE, Income levy, pensions. She held it in front of her with her nose wrinkled up like I was after wiping my armpit with it. Well I said. Well what? What’s the story?  There’s no story sir: I wasn’t on the computer as an employee of Pokey Burke or anyone else.”

A few years before, the building boom seemed like it would never end. Pokey’s father recalls “there were seven years there where you could build houses out of cardboard and masking tape and they’d be sold off the plans. People queued all night to buy boxes of houses crammed together like kennels.”

Realtin lives on one of Ireland’s famous ghost estates “There are forty-four houses on this estate. I live in number twenty-three. There’s an old lady living in number forty. There’s no one living in any of the other houses, just the ghosts of people who never existed. I’m stranded, she’s abandoned…How sad am I?”

Donal Ryan captures the complexity of real life. Brian is about to leave for Australia, saying “I haven’t worked since I finished my apprenticeship.”  Brian knows he’s supposed to be “a tragic figure, a modern incarceration of the poor tenant farmer laid low by famine, cast from his smallholding by the Gombeen Man, forced to choose between the coffin ship and the grave.” Instead, he’s looking forward to the adventure. “I was only ever thinking about going to Australia because every single person I know went over there for at least a year and had unreal craic.”

The people in The Spinning Heart haven’t just lost jobs. Their initiative and identity are gone, too. Rory dreams of going to a concert with a girl he’s met in the town. “I’ll stand there until I start feeling like a dick, then I’ll get the bus back to the village and look at her number in my phone while the summer rain runs down the window and my cowardly heart settles back into the slow rhythm of time being wasted. Then I’ll delete her number.”

Triona, whose husband Bobby Mahon hasn't worked since Pokey Burke left the country, says: “The air is thick with platitudes around here. We’ll all pull together. We’re a tight knit community. We’ll all pull together. Oh really? Will we?”

But it is Triona who ends the book with hope because she still has her husband and son. “I just said oh love; oh love; what matters now?”

What matters, only love?”

The Spinning Heart is a compact gem, beautifully evocative of the people all over Ireland whom the Celtic Tiger left behind.  It reminds us that behind the statistics are real people whose better days are gone, with bitterness and despair left behind. SB

The Spinning Heart
By Donal Ryan

Steerforth Press, $15

Views: 1127

Tags: Books, Literature, Opinion, Review

Comment by Jim Curley on May 28, 2014 at 7:59am
About a decade ago, I got the chance to read The Pope's Children - nonfiction about Ireland in the time of the Celtic Tiger, I'm presently reading The Spinning Heart,and consider it a fictionalized follow-up to The Pope's Children. Fat City is definitely gone in Donal Kelly's novel, and his characters' lives are as substantial as the cardboard and masking tape that make up their homes.

Kinda reminds me on the saying on a t-shirt several decades ago that went something like this, "A man has to stand up for what he believes. I believe I'll have another beer.' Sad.
Comment by Gerry Regan on May 28, 2014 at 6:44pm

Donal RYAN'S novel, you mean, Jim, don't you?

Comment by Jim Curley on May 29, 2014 at 7:42am

I stand...oops...sit corrected. Donal Ryan,

Comment by DJ Kelly on May 29, 2014 at 12:08pm

I too love fiction based on fact. I shall acquire a copy of this book. I think it's important to understand the effects the actions of the fat cats at the top have on the ordinary people, and what better way to reflect this than in novel form? People are too inured to press reporting of human tragedies these days, I think.   

Comment by Gerry Regan on May 29, 2014 at 12:58pm

DJ, everyone, please consider buying 'The Spinning Heart' from our Amazon link above -- we appreciate the support!


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