The Spinning Heart Summary

Donal Ryan

The Spinning Heart

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The Spinning Heart Summary

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The Spinning Heart (2014) is a novel by Donal Ryan. Ryan uses multiple points of view—each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character—to give the reader an overview of life in Ireland in the wake of the disastrous 2008 global economic slowdown.

As the book begins, Bobby has lost his job and is angered to discover that his employer, Pokey, has no pension for Bobby now that he’s unemployed. Bobby wishes his father, Frank, would die and dreams of killing him. When Frank is found dead, Bobby is accused of murder.

Josie, Pokey’s father, feels that he has not raised his son correctly. He feels responsible because he gave Pokey the business and, thus, the ability to build the “ghost estate,” a development that remains empty and unsold after the economic crash.

Lily has a bad reputation in town as a woman of loose morals; everyone treats her very poorly. Lily believes she did what she had to in order to survive.

Vasya is an immigrant who came to Ireland after his brother was beaten to death. Vasya works for Pokey, and though he enjoys the company of his fellow workers, always feels like an outsider. He is haunted by what will happen when his family discovers his brother’s death.

Réaltín is a single mother living in the ghost estate that Pokey built. She recalls being pressured to buy the house and being lied to about many aspects of the property.

Timmy is a laborer with a childlike demeanor and simple mind. His life is quite awful but he seems incapable of realizing it, making him one of the happiest characters in the book.

Brian worked with Bobby and idolizes the older man. He finds it impossible to be himself because of it. He wishes to move to Australia for a variety of reasons.

Trevor is an undiagnosed schizophrenic who suffers many delusions and hallucinations. He decides he must kidnap Réaltín and Seanie’s son, Dylan. Trevor works at the Montessori school and abducts the child there.

Bridie is a bitter, middle-aged woman whose son Peter died at a young age. Bridie, having never been able to get past this, feels enormous anger, which she inflicts on everyone. She is conscious of her flaws but powerless to stop herself.

Jason is a troubled young man, a victim of sexual abuse and PTSD, who refuses to get a job. He saw Bobby sneaking into Frank’s house the evening that Frank died, but he refuses to say anything about it because he likes and respects Bobby.

Hillary is Réaltín’s best friend and coworker. She and Réaltín had their wages cut and their jobs changed when the recession hit, and Hillary is tired of hearing Réaltín complain.

Seanie is Réaltín’s husband and Dylan’s father. Though he is seen as a “ladies man,” this is an act he keeps up for appearances. Depressed about his relationship with his wife and his son, he feels like a failure.

Kate has lost her job, and her husband Denis is out of work as well. She owns the Montessori school, but Dylan’s kidnapping has shut it down. Kate shows signs of mental illness, and she and Denis have a poor relationship.

Lloyd is Trevor’s friend who helps him kidnap Dylan. Though Lloyd believes he is the only being who matters in the universe, he seems worried that Trevor will harm the child.

Rory has low self-esteem. When a girl gives him her phone number and invites him to a party, he does not believe she is really interested and talks himself out of calling, trapping himself in misery.

Millicent is Lily’s granddaughter. Millicent’s mother is bitter because of the economic hardship, taking out her frustrations on her father. Millicent acts out due to her unhappy home life.

Denis is angry because the workers cheated by Pokey owe him money. He reveals that he killed Bobby’s father Frank because Frank reminds him of his own abusive father.

Mags is Josie’s daughter and a lesbian. Her sexuality has broken her relationship with her father and with the town in general. She longs to be a child again.

Jim is the local policeman charged with investigating both the kidnapping and the murder. He is under a great deal of stress as everyone in the community demands he solve the crimes quickly.

Frank reveals he was also abused as a child. He thought he was preparing Bobby for the real world, which he sees as a terrible place, by doing the same to him.

Triona is Bobby’s wife. She discusses her hatred of the gossips in town and reveals that Dylan has been found safe.

The Spinning Heart tells a story in fragments using many different perspectives; the reader must work to put the clues together to build a sequence of events. Unreliable narrators throughout make this even more challenging, but in the end, this postmodern approach is ideal for sketching a modern vision of rural Ireland.