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What Did You Do During The Recession, Daddy?

Donal Ryan

For the last four years or so, the Recession has dominated the Media. The prevalent mood has been anger with the Blame Game taking pride of place. While there is a solid justification for this, it can become a little overbearing especially when the “Holier Than Thou” syndrome emerges and the “Finger Pointing” becomes something of a witch hunt.

Recently I was asked for a book that would give an overview of the Recession, the situation as was before the Bust, the Crash itself and what has happened since. I had to admit that, to date, no such book exists. There are, of course, many books written about the Recession but they relate to a specific aspect of it such as how the country went broke, who the culprits are and what should be done to them and what the present government aren’t doing to get us out of it but none that give a dispassionate and objective of the Irish experience since the turn of the century, more especially since 2008.

If the same customer were to ask me the question again today, I would, with pleasure, at least, been able to point him in the direction of the new intriguing publication “The Spinning Heart” Donal Ryan’s first published novel.Ryan was born in a village not far from Nenagh Co Tipperary and within walking distance of the shores of Lough Derg. He wrote the first draft of “The Spinning Heart” during the long summer evenings of 2010.

The blurb tells us that “The fallout of Ireland’s financial collapse provokes dangerous tensions in a small Irish town. As the consequences of greed affect an entire community, a drama of kidnap and murder evolves. Through a choice of unique voices, each struggling with their own version of truth, a single authentic tale emerges”.

As blurbs go, this is well written but uncharacteristically modest and only gives the bare bones of the book. The fleshing out of the story is pure magic introducing a bright, energetic and refreshing new voce to the Irish literary scene.

The novel consists of the personal testimony of twenty one different and individual voices all affected by a rogue builder’s absconding with the P.R.S.I. monies, beginning with the builder’s foreman Bobby Mahon and finishing with his wife Triona, all of whom find themselves in a financial vacuum. The fact that each of these testimonies has its own unique voice is one of the remarkable achievements of the book.

And while each of these voices tells his, or her, own story, as every one of these vignettes moves towards its own conclusion, Ryan manages, without changing a beat, to have that voice progress the overall narrative, thus keeping the plot moving seamlessly without any apparent interference by the author.

Where this novel really scores, however, is the mastery of language demonstrated throughout the text.Not only does the novel consist of 21 different voices, but each voice has its own language, its own accent and its own rhythm and again Ryan moves in and out of every one of these with a remarkable facility that is quite extraordinary in a debut novel. The text is choc a block with some really delightful turns of phrase such as possibly one of the greatest female put downs of the male “He’s not civilised, he’s not even evolved”, and again this description of the local gossip machine as the “Teapot Taliban”. Oscar Wilde would have been proud of that one.

So when in years to come, his children ask Ryan “Well! What did you do in the Recession, Daddy?” he can legitimately say “I recorded it as it really was for the ordinary people without reference to the Bankers, Builders or Politicians”.

“The Spinning Heart” is not just a stunning read and a testament to the real pain caused by the Recession it is also a magnificent debut introducing a brave new voice to Irish Literature. There is, I believe, another novel in the offing. I, for one, am looking forward to it already.