Book review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

the heart's invisible furies john boyneThe Heart’s Invisible Furies has a familiar premise. A young girl in rural Ireland is pregnant and is driven out of her community by the priest. However, this novel does not tell the tale you might expect.

Cyril Avery is the child, born in 1945, so the story of post-war Ireland and his own are inextricably linked. He is adopted by an affluent, eccentric and colourful couple in Dublin – the determinedly obscure author Maude Avery and her husband Charles who is an exuberantly corrupt banker. They are amiable but remote and are always careful to remind Cyril that he is their adoptive son.

His life changes when he and Julian Woodbead meet at the age of seven. Julian is already handsome, charismatic and worldly beyond his years and Cyril becomes infatuated with him. Julian and his family will remain intertwined with Cyril throughout his life.

Cyril’s adoption into a privileged circle and his employment at the Dáil mean he finds himself at the heart of a number of the major events affecting Ireland and the wider world. We follow him throughout his life as he lives through political and social upheaval.

Cyril is gay at a time when it is both a criminal offence and socially unacceptable, in a society which is dominated by the Catholic Church. He struggles to hide his sexuality from the significant people in his life. His inability to be honest about himself has dramatically – sometimes comically – bad consequences at a number of points in the book. Boyne leaves space for us to question whether Cyril is purely a victim or whether he bears some responsibility for this failure of courage.

Some of the secondary characters are also fascinating. I found the portrait of Maude Avery particularly poignant. To Cyril she is cool and remote but the picture of her that emerges from her work is quite different. There are also a number of cameos of real historical figures which are entertaining – including a drunk Brendan Behan.

The book opens with Cyril telling us that he eventually comes to know his birth mother, and tantalisingly their paths cross a number of times throughout their life before they are finally reunited. The drama for the reader comes not from if but when and how.

This is a warm, immersive and humorous account of one man’s life from his birth in disgrace in a repressive society, to the legalising of gay marriage in his old age. It does not gloss over the horrors that many people face because of prejudice but it is also brimful of humanity and hope.

I received a copy of The Heart’s Invisible Furies from the publisher via Netgalley.
View The Heart’s Invisible Furies on Goodreads

Enjoyed this? Take a look at my review of The Green Road by Anne Enright – on the face of it quite a different book but with some similarities in theme.


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