Monday, November 18, 2013

The Spinning Heart

Irish authors are making their presence felt!   Following rapidly on the success of Eimear McBride in the Goldsmiths Award, Donal Ryan has now been nominated, as one of six authors, with The Spinning Heart in the Guardian 2013 First Book award.   The winner will be announced at Tate Modern on 28 November. 

Already a winner of Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2012 and long listed for the Man Booker Prize, Donal Ryan has written an intriguing and very original spin on the effects of the recession in Ireland.   But it is also much more than just the effects of the recession.   The book is set in a village in Ireland where a local developer, Pokey Burke, has crashed and disappeared leaving unpaid bills and wages, a situation devastating for the locals.   But like any village, its not just all about work - there are local antagonisms, resentments, fears and, above all, tremendous stress in relationships leading eventually to both a murder and a kidnap.   Ryan himself said that 'there's a marriage at the centre of The Spinning Heart, and a relationship between a father and son, and they're what I was most concerned with'.   And that is the triumph of the book - we have lived and are living the recession, we've bought several of the t-shirts and might think we have read enough about it.   But this is different.  There are 21 characters involved and Ryan has given each one of them a chapter and I have to say that the quickest you can read this book - its only 150 pages - the better as it makes more impact when one can remember clearly the different sentiments expressed by each character.   This format that Ryan has chosen gives a new insight into the lives and thoughts of a disparate group of villagers and their relationships with each other, their jealousies and desires.   That between Bobby Mahon, one of the leading characters, and his father is told with huge skill and not a little surprise and will certainly give you pause for thought.

Ryan writes with a delicacy and perfection that is a pleasure to read.   He captures a world reminiscent of McGahern though with none of that grim misery.   As with many short novels, the language is spare and precise and yet he gives us a complex and involved narrative superior to many books twice its length.   Definitely worth a read.

Published in paperback by Doubleday Ireland, £10.99

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing

I haven't been this excited for a long time!   Eimear McBride has won the Goldsmiths Prize for original fiction with her extraordinary and ground-breaking novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing.   Look back at my blog of 7 October.   As I said then,
'A shortlist of six books is going forward, the winner to be announced on 13 November.   And what is really exciting is that one of the six is A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride, an Irish born author now living in England and a true inheritor of Joyce.   Anne Enright has already called her a genius, an opinion with which I concur.   In form and language, it is unique written as it is in half-formed sentences but with each word chosen to implode in the text with astonishing power that drives the narrative.   Though we are living in the mind of a young woman, this is not a stream of consciousness but a frightening look at the travails of childhood, schooldays and beyond to the age of 20.   She grows up in a household where the father has left, her elder brother has survived a childhood brain tumour which has left him damaged and her mother becomes a charismatic christian.   While religion or, rather the outward forms of a public piosity play a part in the book, it does not dominate.   She deals with the cruelty and mindless viciousness that can happen in school.   She discovers sex and pain and the power sex gives.   McBride deals particularly elegantly with the love the narrator has for her disabled brother coupled with the frustration and hate of his handicap.  All her characters are nameless.

This is a truly exciting and extraordinary piece of literature in both form, language and content.   The jacket of the novel carries a quotation from the text which gives a taste of her writing:  'I think your face the very best.   When we were we were we were young.   When you were little and I was girl.   Once upon a time'.
I don't think I shall read a better book any time soon.