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“In every great Russian writer,” wrote Virginia Woolf, “we seem to discern the features of a saint, if sympathy for the suffering of others, love towards them, endeavor to reach some goal worthy of the most exacting demands of the spirit constitute saintliness.” She wasn’t wrong, but being English, her attention was drawn to the fashionable literature a continent away to the East instead of to the West.
In 2016, writing in the Guardian about Donal Ryan’s fourth book, All We Shall Know, Sebastian Barry, himself one of the finest Irish novelists of the last thirty-odd years, called Ryan “the king of the new wave of Irish writers.” That’s a mouthful considering that Ireland produces literary geniuses more often than Royal family scandals break.
If Ryan is indeed the new king, his rise was slow in coming. Publishers rejected his first two novels, The Spinning Heart (2012) and The Thing About December (2013), a total of 47 times. The Spinning Heart made the longlist for the Booker Prize and was named Irish Book of the Decade in 2016. Now with six novels and a short story collection in print, he has won enough prizes to fill a wing at the library of the University of Limerick, where he currently teaches creative writing.