Summary and book reviews of The Weight of a Human Heart by Ryan O'Neill

The Weight of a Human Heart

Stories

By Ryan O'Neill

The Weight of a Human Heart

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Book Summary

Ranging from Australia and Africa to Europe and Asia and back again, The Weight of a Human Heart heralds a fresh and important new voice in fiction. Ryan O'Neill takes us on a journey that is sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, and wholly original.

A young Tutsi girl flees her village on the brink of the Rwandan genocide. A literary duel - and an affair - play out in the book review section of a national newspaper. A young girl learns her mother's disturbing secrets through the broken key on a typewriter. 

With imagination, wit, and a keen eye, Ryan O'Neill draws the essence of the human experience with a cast of characters who stick with you long after you turn the last page of this brilliant short story collection.

Excerpt
Weight of a Human Heart

COLLECTED STORIES
Twelve Stories (Bearsden Press, 1966)

My mother, Margaret Hately, was a short-story writer. In the few photographs I have of her she is carrying a book, holding it against her chest as if she were suckling it. There are no photographs of my father. My mother destroyed them when he left her, a month before I was born. I only know him from the parts of him she put in her stories – a limp, a way of reading the newspaper at arm's length. Whilst my mother wrote, my father was made of words.

When I was a child, I loved to watch my mother writing. She would sit at her scarred wooden desk under the stained-glass window in the hallway, the sunlight harlequinning the paper before her. Even now I see the top third of any page in a book as green, the middle blue, and the lower third as yellow. As she wrote, she would keep a cigarette burning in the ashtray at her elbow, occasionally blowing great smoky O's into the air. ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Innovative and provocative, The Weight of a Human Heart thoroughly explores what it means to be human—and to have a heart. This varied – and at times seemingly experimental – collection of short stories travels the wide world and brings readers inside the lives of many different characters.   (Reviewed by Sarah Tomp).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Cate Kennedy, author of Dark Roots
By turns acerbic, playful and serious, O'Neill is equally at home with satire and pathos.

Author Blurb The Independent (UK)
Playful with content, O'Neill is also joyfully original with format ... [in] this brilliant collection.

The Monthly (Australia)

Uproarious, dazzling collection.

The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

Both inventive and moving ... Solving the riddles of his prose becomes addictive.

The Guardian (UK)

Daring, intelligent, witty, full of new discoveries and exhilarations.

Kirkus Reviews

The prose - when the author bothers to simply write prose - is very good. But too much of the book looks like a Ph.D. thesis in creative writing, where extra credit goes to the candidate who tries techniques others know better than to try.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Vital storytelling and literary flourishes distinguish Scottish author O'Neill's creative story collection ... What brings all of the tonal diversity together is O'Neill's obvious understanding of the cohesiveness of language, its power to transcend and overcome, and the way an economy of precious words in a short story can achieve a novel's worth of emotion.

Library Journal

Starred Review. The variety of narrative modes here never feels like experimentation for its own sake, and the singular mix of humor, intelligence, and global awareness sets this impressive collection apart from the crowd.

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BookBrowse Interview with Author Ryan O'Neill

Author Ryan O'Neill was born in Glasgow in 1975. He lived in Africa, Europe and Asia before settling in Newcastle, Australia, with his wife and two daughters. His fiction has appeared in The Best Australian Stories, The Sleepers Almanac, Meanjin, New Australian Stories, Wet Ink, Etchings, and Westerly. His work has won the Hal Porter and Roland Robinson awards. The Weight of a Human Heart has been shortlisted for the 2012 Queensland Literary Prize—Steele Rudd Award. He teaches at the University of Newcastle.

Author Ryan O'Neill What most appeals to you about the short story format?

One of the main things that appeals to me about short stories, as both a reader and a writer, is their variety. I love the fact that in a collection or anthology ...

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