Told in multiple voices, The Spinning Heart recounts the story of a small Irish town after the recent financial collapse, bringing to life the struggles of people who can’t find work, are stuck in dead end jobs or bought property in ghost town developments that were only partially built. Ryan is able to bring a community of characters to life, while telling the story of a murder and a kidnapping, in just 156 pages, with a different character narrating each chapter.
I don’t want to say too much about the book, as it is worth meeting the characters and letting the story unfold on the page, but I was deeply impressed by Ryan’s ability to create depth with such brevity. Many debuts publish in the 300 – 500 page range. We live in a literary world where we often reward length over quality. But Ryan’s book is a testament to the power of condensing a story. There is not an unnecessary word in the book. The Spinning Heart was rejected over 40 times before Ryan found a publisher. I am glad he persisted with his submissions.
Ryan lives in Ireland. The Spinning Heart won the Guardian First Book Prize in 2013.
I’ve been reading the best books lists for the year, and although Electric Literature lobbies that 2014 was “the year of the debut,” I feel like the only four debut authors who are getting much attention are: Celeste Ng, Phil Klay, Matthew Thomas and Smith Henderson. And I am surprised that a number of the best of lists don’t feature any debuts at all. I know that not every book can be a “best” book, and this year was notable for how many stand out authors published books that are getting attention, the best lists include Marilynne Robinson, David Mitchell, Joshua Ferris and Lorrie Moore to name a few, but I can’t help thinking of all the debut novels I read this year that are not bubbling up.
Last week I wrote about Island of a Thousand Mirrors, which was one of my favorite novels of 2014. I thought the writing was beautiful and I enjoyed how Munaweera mixed genres, combining a multi-generational story, with an immigrant story and a war story. For my next post, I will write about Donal Ryan’s, The Spinning Heart, which got a lot of attention when it came out earlier this year in the United States and won the Guardian First Book Award in 2013, but I have not seen mentioned on any of the year end lists. I loved how he used multiple voices to tell a story and how he told a complex story of life in rural Ireland after the economic collapse in 156 pages.
But the book, which I think is the most underrated debut of the year is Anjan Sundarman’s, Stringer, a memoir set in Africa, an homage to Ryszard Kapuscinski, which tells the moving story about Sundarman’s attempt to be a stringer in the Congo in 2005.
Happy holiday reading and to a happy new year! And if you are looking for a list of top debut novels for the year, Kirkus Reviews has a nice list to explore.
The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award announced their shortlist this week. Dublin City Public Libraries manage this award and public libraries from all around the world nominate the books. “Titles are nominated on the basis of ‘high literary merit’ as determined by the nominating library.” This year’s list has a great collection of international writers to explore.
One of my favorite debuts that I read (and reviewed) last year was on the list, Absolution, by Patrick Flanery.
Also on the list is The Spinning Heart, by Donal Ryan, which is about life in rural Ireland after the recent financial collapse. The book is told from a collection of voices and looks like a moving portrait of life in Ireland. He also made it on the Booker longlist.
The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction also announced their shortlist and three of the books are debuts. I’ve mentioned two before: A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride and Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent.
The third debut is The Undertaking, which was written by another Irish author, Audrey Magee. This book just published in February 2014 and is about a German solider who during WWII agrees to a marry a woman he has never met, so that he can get a “honeymoon” leave from the warfront. Their marriage and bond end up being more than either expected. It sounds like an intriguing look at love and war.
I will also note, although it is not a debut novel, that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is also on this shortlist. I recently read that book and was blown away by the richness of her characters and her ability to write about race and ethnic identity in such a clear and moving way. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Last week the Booker Prize 2013 longlist came out. I feel there are two camps around the Booker – those who like the books they chose and those that refuse to read anything on their list. How about you?
I tend to fall in the “seek out” camp. This year three debut novels made it on to the list. Two of them have yet to publish in the US.
Eve Harris was listed for The Marrying of Chani Kaufman. It’s a story about a young orthodox Jewish woman in London, her arranged marriage and how she learns to be a Jewish wife. This book comes out in the US in September.
Donal Ryan was listed for The Spinning Heart, a story of a struggling Irish town after the Irish economy collapsed. Ryan is one of three Irish authors on the list (joined by Colm Toibin and Colum McCann). This book is particularly noteworthy as Ryan was rejected by 47 publishers before he found a home for his book. That is tenacity! As far as I can tell, it’s not coming out in the US until next year.
I noted that Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home made it onto the NYT Trade Paperback best-seller list this week. I reviewed this book back in January and am happy to see it doing well in paperback.
And here at Proto Libro, in August I will reviewing two debut novels: Courtney Angela Brkic’s The First Rule of Swimming and Susan Nussbaum’s Good Kings, Bad Kings.