Boyne, John. “The Heart’s Invisible Furies: A Novel”, Hogarth, 2017.
When Cyril Avery’s adoptive parents tell him that he is not a real Avery and that he never will be, he becomes determined to find out just who he is. He was born to a teenage girl who had cast out from her rural Irish community because she dared get pregnant before marriage. Cyril was adopted by a well-to-do and eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a Redemptorist nun and he is now adrift in the world who is somewhat by his heartfelt friendship with the dangerous Julian Woodbead. Cyril’s life will be spent learning who he really is and from whence he came. (I love the word “whence” and so rarely get to use it). Cyril wants an identity, a home, a country, and much more.
Writer John Boyne takes us through the story of Ireland from the 1940s as seen by one ordinary man. We laugh and cry but above all we are reminded of the redemptive power of the human spirit.
Set in Post-War Ireland, with intolerance hidden in Catholicism, we follow the life of Cyril Avery. Once we meet his birth mother and the circumstances in which he was born, we are pulled into the story wondering what will happen to him. The story is related to us in seven year increments, travel between Europe and America and witness Cyril’s life alongside the cultural and societal evolution of Ireland. We are privy to chance encounters with his birth mother, love affairs, decades-long friendships and wounds from the past all the while heading toward redemption.
Boyne writes with amazing detail and evocative descriptions of each city we visit and watch as Cyril’s identity shuts as he struggles with nationality, class, and sexuality. The examination of Cyril’s life is also “a catalogue of Western society’s evolution from post-war to present day, with all its failings, triumphs, complexities, and certainties”.
Boyne’s use of bitter and sarcastic humor and wit captures the hypocrisy of the Irish Catholic Church and we fall in love with the characters. Maude and Charles Avery provided a home for their adopted son, but he was never really in their hearts or minds. Cyril grows up and comes to terms with his homosexuality in Ireland that is tied Church where acceptance of sexual and societal changes are slow to come— but they do come.
Cyril is our narrator and his story is told through his eyes and as he sees it. Cyril learned early on that he was attracted to men but he lives in a society that will not tolerate this, and at various times of his life, deals with it without losing his sense of worth. Boyne’s subtly explains the Irish attitudes and misconceptions about being gay via conversations with other clueless characters, some of which shake us because of their ignorance. The
influence of the priests and the church were tantamount in the outcome of Cyril’s fate and this is realty a coming of age story of both a man and his country.