From the first sentence I was entranced. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne starts with such an opening sentence, full of conflict, hypocrisy, resentment and hope, it made me want to gobble up the pages and not put the book down. I wasn’t disappointed.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the life story of one man, Cyril Avery, but also of a country and its attitudes to sexuality. The story starts in Goleen, Ireland, in 1945; a country riven by loyalty to, and hatred of, the British, at the same time in thrall to its Catholic priests whose rules were hypocritical, illogical and cruel. Cyril narrates his story, starting with how his 16-year old mother was denounced in church by the family priest for being single and pregnant. She was thrown out of church and village by the priest and disowned by her family. On the train to Dublin she meets a teenager, Sean, also heading for the big city. Wanting to help someone so obviously alone, Sean offers to let Catherine stay at his digs until she finds lodging and a job. These first friends she make are some of the most important in her life, and re-appear at important times also in Cyril’s life. Catherine gives birth and, as she carefully arranged, her baby is taken by a nun and placed with a waiting adoptive family. We the readers therefore know the identity and story of Cyril’s birth mother from page one; he doesn’t. As he grows from quiet boy to quiet teenager, falling in love at the age of seven with Julian, Cyril begins to lead a life of lies and shame forced on him by Ireland’s attitude to homosexuality and his inability to be true to himself. Cyril negotiates the first 30 years of his life, trapped between lying in order to stay safe or being truthful and getting arrested. Then he finds himself at the marriage altar. What happens next changes his life in so many ways, ways in which don’t become fully apparent until the last third of the novel.
This could be a depressing novel. It isn’t. It is charming and funny, but can turn on a sixpence and make you gasp with anger, despair or sadness. The characterisation is masterful. I particularly enjoyed Cyril’s adoptive mother Maude Avery, a chain-smoking novelist who detests the growing popularity of her books; his adoptive father Charles Avery who starts off being an awful snob with a talent for unintentional insults; and Mrs Goggin, who runs the tearoom at the Irish parliament with a rod of iron.
I loved this book. Honest, sad, laugh-out-loud funny, touching, with paragraphs I just had to read out aloud to my husband. It is about being true to yourself, the need for honesty in relationships, and the power of love. My favourite book of the year so far.
‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ by John Boyne [UK: Black Swan]
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