Donal Ryan

The Spinning Heart

  • 40-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 21 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an English instructor with an MFA in Creative Writing
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The Spinning Heart Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 40-page guide for “The Spinning Heart” by Donal Ryan includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 21 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Parent and Child Disconnect and Abuse and Inner Self Versus Outer Self and Masculinity.

Plot Summary

Donal Ryan’s debut novel, The Spinning Heart, was published in 2012 and chronicles the effects of a declining economy on a small Irish village. When the economy was booming, Pokey Burke headed a lucrative construction crew—the main source of jobs and revenue for many people in the village. However, once the economy plummets, Pokey disappears, taking with him the pensions of his crew and leaving most of the housing projects unfinished. Many of the men in the village are without jobs or savings. As a result, many of the characters face repressed feelings of grief and loss.

Ryan writes each of the 21 chapters from a different character’s point of view; therefore, there are 21 different perspectives on the economic crisis. Despite these different views, many of the characters struggle with similar feelings of grief and loss due to familial disconnects, unemployment, a sense of purposelessness, little income, and mental illness. Bobby, the main character, connects each character and chapter.

Many of the characters reflect on their own lives in relation to Bobby, who many consider the most moral and decent man in town. After Pokey abandons the community, Bobby continues to plan ways to make a living amongst the ruins of the town. As a result of Bobby’s ingenuity and leadership, some people love him and look to him as a beacon of hope in the town, while others are jealous and hope that he fails. Rumors begin to circulate that Bobby is having an affair with Réaltín, a young single mother whose son is later kidnapped, and Bobby is eventually arrested for allegedly murdering his own father, Frank. Some people in town can’t believe that Bobby would do such a thing and stand by his innocence, while others think this is proof that Bobby is no better than anyone else.

Each chapter reflects a different character’s first-person narration style and vernacular. Some characters are vulnerable, willing to share their inner thoughts, fears, and feelings, while other characters are guarded narrators who only give their opinions and judgments about other characters. Some characters speak with a plethora of informal slang terms, while other characters are more formal. However, all chapters include Irish phrases and terms.

The reader must work to connect the clues to build a sequence of events. Unreliable narrators throughout make this task more challenging, but, in the end, this postmodern approach is ideal for sketching a modern vision of rural Ireland.

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Chapters 1-5