Friday, 24 February 2017

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

review by Maryom 

Starting in 1940s Ireland and running to the present day, The Heart's Invisible Furies is the story - cradle to grave - of Cyril Avery. Even before his birth, it's made clear that he's not wanted by society - his unmarried mother is shamed in front of her family and neighbours by the village priest, physically thrown out of the church and told in no uncertain terms to leave town and never come back! As an adopted child and later a homosexual man, Cyril is constantly made to feel an outsider, unwanted and unloved. 

Given a home by an odd emotion-less couple, Cyril is deprived of affection, constantly told he isn't a 'real Avery' by his adoptive father and generally treated rather like a decorative piece of furniture. It's no surprise therefore that when he meets charismatic youngster Julian, Cyril is instantly infatuated and the seeds are sown for an on/off lifetime friendship. As he grows into manhood, Cyril comes to acknowledge that he's gay, again putting himself outside society's norms (at least for 1960s Ireland), forcing him to lead a double life, hiding his true self and ultimately leading to a foolish act which forces him to flee Ireland. 

This latest work by John Boyne is a wonderful, sweeping epic spanning seventy years. Although it deals with many 'issues', this is the tale of one particular man's life, but a life inextricably bound up with Ireland's own story - from the tyrannical role played by the church in the 40s and 50s, and the degrading of anyone who doesn't fit within the accepted norms, to the liberal attitude of today. Throughout Cyril's life, from IRA outrages to mingling with politicians and literary figures, he seems to have been involved in, or on the periphery of, major events.

The book opens dramatically with a scene that, with its echoes of Hester Prynne's shaming in The Scarlet Letter, feels more like something from 17th century New England than 20th century Europe. Although I've read much about the near absolute control held over people's lives by the Catholic Church in Ireland, I was still stunned that such a scene could have taken place not that long ago!
From there, the story leaps forward in bursts, picking up Cyril's story at seven year intervals, each marking a significant point in his life, as he struggles to define himself (he's certainly not a 'real Avery', as his adoptive father never fails to point out!), and to find acceptance and love. His choices aren't always the best but it does feel that he's trying to be honest and do what he feels is right - the consequences though are too often tragic. 

Telling the story in the first person, Boyne uses dialogue to both further the story and shed insight on characters' emotions. I particularly loved the exchanges between Cyril and the women in his life, which capture their warmth and playfulness of their relationships; I actually thought at one point that his mother might steal the show from him completely, with her talk of elderly ladies ogling their gym instructor! The structure still allows the reader to know things which Cyril doesn't, and characters appear time and again without Cyril realising their significance to his story; it's cleverly done, and doesn't feel like too great a coincidence but I did find myself urging Cyril to ask just the right question that would reveal so much.

I read a review e-copy so didn't realise the length - just over 600 pages - till I was searching out links for this review, but I loved every bit and wouldn't want to cut a single page. It's full of everything from joy to despair, and I can't believe anyone could read it and not be moved. 

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Doubleday
Genre - adult fiction 

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