The Spinning Heart

Donal Ryan

Doubleday Ireland/The Lilliput Press, £10.99

The fallout from Ireland’s financial collapse haunts this debut novel. Bobby, left out of pocket by his former boss, struggles to find work in a defunct construction market. Réaltín, a single mother, lives in a ghost estate, the houses all around her half-finished. Hillary knows she’s “lucky to have a job” in a solicitors’ office, even though cutbacks mean she has to clean the toilets as well as do all her other work. And Millicent is a curious child listening to her parents fight, her father on the dole and her mother working her “fingers to the bone”. Set in rural Ireland, the narrative moves around the community, through different voices and generations. Sometimes the stories echo each other, sometimes there’s hearsay and untruths. An ambitious exploration of contemporary Ireland, The Spinning Heart uncovers a fragmented, troubled society struggling under the weight of betrayal and regret. Sorcha Hamilton


Alex Hijmans

Cois Life, €14

This first collection of short stories in Irish by the multilingual Dutchman Alex Hijmans is set in Salvador, in Brazil, where he lives. The title translates in this context as “wounds” and the injuries of his characters are very visible indeed. In Buzú, the narrator plays a deadly game of cat and mouse on public transport, a game in which the drivers have the upper hand and treat joyriding youngsters as little more than vermin to be cleaned off their moving vehicles as quickly and brutally as possible. Other stories, such as Malandro and Dréimire na Cumhachta, explore the more macho elements of growing up – if, in fact, one survives to grow up. Hijmans, a journalist who has contributed to this paper’s Irish-language columns on occasion, writes in clearly and concisely. His storytelling is full of compassion for people on the edge of society, unwanted by those in power but struggling on despite the wounds life inflicts. Pól Ó Muirí

African Violet and Other Stories

New Internationalist, £8.99

Of these stories by contemporary African writers, I especially enjoyed the contributions by women. My favourite was La Salle de Départ, by Melissa Tandiwe Myambo, from Zimbabwe, in which the point of view switches between a brother and sister. The brother is an expat who resents being shaken down by his extended family whenever a relative needs school fees, shoes or a bicycle. The sister is a small-time entrepreneur who, despite her intelligence, was pushed aside so that her brother could be educated. Their mutal incomprehension makes absorbing reading. In African Violet, by South Africa’s Rehana Rossouw, a self-absorbed yuppie discovers why her neighbour refuses to go outdoors. Rossouw’s fellow South African Rachel Zadok describes, in The Verge, a woman who seems to be a victim but is in fact far from it. The collection includes five stories shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing and 10 stories written in writers’ workshops. Between them, they give an outsider an interesting glimpse of life in Africa’s many varied settings. Mary Feely

Street Fight in Naples

Peter Robb

Bloomsbury, £9.99

Naples is a city of “moist and exquisitely polluted air”, full of dark alleys illuminated by “blinding knifeblades of light”. Robb brings a painterly eye to his descriptions of the locals in the dark and dank Spanish Quarters area: “sylphlike girls and bountiful breastfeeding mothers hardened and thickened overnight into chunky walking armoured cars with voices like factory hooters” and old widowers “in decent threadbare clothes with a black mourning button on their lapel and living off the smell of an oiled rag”. Teeming Naples is the enthralling setting for Robb’s interweaved stories of mayhem, vice, riots and revolutions. This magical book’s structure is painterly, a dab of information here, another there, in no chronological sequence, while a picture slowly emerges. The spine of the book is Robb’s sensitive treatment of the influence of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio on a series of 17th-century Neapolitan painters, culminating in the relatively unknown Bartolomeo Passante, described by Robb as one of the great visionary painters of the 17th century. Tom Moriarty

The Boy in the River

Richard Hoskins

Pan, £7.99

Richard Hoskins, a professor of theology who is an expert on African tribal religions, is “the only multicultural expert on the national police database” in the UK. Over the past decade, he has been involved with a series of trials concerning the abuse or killing of children against a background of so-called ritual, in particular the case of “Adam”, the young boy who was ritually murdered and whose body was found floating in the Thames, beside Tower Bridge, in 2001. Hoskins interleaves this narrative with his own story, in particular his discovery of Africa in his 20s, which ensures that some horrific details of the main narrative are kept in balance. His eloquence and intelligence enable him to hold together the split narrative. The protection of the child is the lodestar that drives him in his emotionally demanding work, which takes a toll on him and on those closest to him. John McBratney

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