Bookworm: ‘A slanting of the sun’ by Donal Ryan

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I have just finished reading ‘A slanting of the sun’ – a 2015 collection of short stories written by Nenagh native Donal Ryan – the Tipperary author who exploded onto the literary scene in 2012 with his devastating book ‘The spinning heart’. This book explored the impact of the economic crash on the local population of a mid-sized country town. I have not read this book, but saw the stage adaptation in Smock Alley Theatre in January last year and was highly impressed. That book was followed by ‘The thing about December’ – written before, but published after ‘The spinning heart’ – a novel set in the same town. It was about a Johnsey Cunliffe – a damaged man unable to deal with the pressures forced on him as the cancerous Celtic Tiger descends on him, as he inherits a great deal of wealth. It was a very unsettling book, told with great humour, but with an underlying sense of dread and darkness. I wrote about this book PREVIOUSLY.

‘The slanting of the sun’ is a book set in the same locale of Tipperary, and my own stomping ground of Limerick. Each of the twenty short stories tells a tale of an individual living in, or from that area. It is a stark collection of stories, giving accounts of the hope, despair, loneliness, pettiness, struggle and isolation of ordinary people. From the opening tale ‘The passion’ about a young just released from jail for dangerous driving which resulted in his girlfriend’s death, who starts going for silent drives with the girl’s mother. To ‘Nephthys and the Lark’ – the shocking story of a middle class woman who has an evening job working in a care home for handicapped adults. To ‘Trouble’ where a young Traveller girl understands her different societal status for the first time. To ‘The House of the Big Small Ones’ about a middle aged man reflecting on opportunities wasted thanks to a dead end affair with a pub landlady. To ‘From a starless night’ about a young man who goes for a jog as he reflects on the recent break up of his relationship, and the unfulfilling relationship he had with his father – thanks to the fact that he was the result of an extra-marital affair. This last story is the strangest of all as his jog takes him from the site of the Davin Arms Pub on the Ennis Road – an old haunt of mine in my ill begotten youth. People from London or Dublin might be well use to places from their past being name-checked in books. For those of us outside the supposed epicentres of culture, it is rather strange to see Ivan’s Shop getting referenced in a book. I used to spend my pocket money in there.

The way Ryan writes his characters in their local dialect is very convincing. I can actually see these people in my mind’s eyes. There is a great humour in his turn of phrase, which often obfuscates the breath-taking sadness of so many of the tales.

‘A slanting of the sun’ is an incredible book – simultaneously hilarious, tragic and heart-breaking. Highly recommended.

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