The Heart’s Invisible Furies

You know how sometimes there are books that you read and love, and others where you loved reading?

I LOVED READING John Boyne’s newest book, The Heart’s Invisible Furies. It’s a big book, and when I first received the ARC, I expected to get through oh, half a chapter, half a book at best. I’m pretty easily distracted sometimes, and I find it’s best to keep the reading expectations low.

I read that sucker in two days flat.

It was one of those books where as I read, I was still conscious of the flaws, the need to perhaps cut some scenes and all, but it was such a pleasure to read, though. I’ve never read Boyne’s books before, but if this book is any indication, I may have to pick up another of his. Even though it deals with pretty weighty matters, running the gamut from the relatively benign unexpected pregnancies to the horrors of the AIDs crisis, to straight-up murder (it’s a lot), the writing itself is pretty light on its feet.

Okay. So. First of all, I loved the first chapter.

The book is ostensibly about the life and times of Cyril Avery, an Irish man, whose life events and growing pains are inextricably tied to Ireland’s modern gay history and its evolution from post-war to present day. It’s a fast read, for all that the book sweeps across such a broad time period, as well as geographic distances. The book keeps moving by jumping forward seven years at a time, so that we follow the broad strokes of Cyril’s life.

Cyril Avery is the adopted son of two eccentric characters, a rather misanthropic feminist author and a charming white-collar criminal. His childhood’s already odd enough, but as he begins to realize that he’s gay, and in love with his classmate, he also makes decisions that have serious ramifications down the line. For most of his early life and early adulthood, Cyril tries to pass as a straight man, until the fallout of his decisions comes to a head on his wedding day, and he runs. From there, Cyril leaves Ireland, travels to Europe and America, and gradually learns to accept himself and his decisions, until another tragedy forces him back to Ireland, where he confronts his past, and finally makes peace with himself and his loved ones.

Cyril is– I won’t say he’s my favorite narrator ever, but he’s convincingly human, flawed yet kind, if lacking a bit of spine. However, that doesn’t necessarily seem out of place or obnoxious, in a book like this, when Cyril is probably meant to be broadly representative as a gay man living in a place and time when being gay got you arrested and thrown in jail. You wish he’d be more truthful, more confident, more willing to challenge and fight, especially as a younger man, but you also understand his choices in face of such blatant and violent homophobia and socially conservative surroundings.

The book is at turns sweet and heartbreaking, but also surprisingly funny– a lot of the understated, read-between-the-lines humor that I find really effective and rewarding as a reader is present– and, if you are the sort of person who doesn’t like sad endings, it’s not! There’s tragedy, and terrible awful events that happen (a little eyebrow raising at times…), but Boyne also dedicates a good chunk of the final third of the book to tying up loose ends and, well, being kind to his characters. It’s a really pleasant way to end a book, and yet it doesn’t feel overindulgent. Instead, it feels like a righting of wrongs and things falling into place.

But I return to the first chapter– which, more of a prologue I guess, describes how Cyril’s birth mother arrived in Dublin, and the circumstances of his birth. This birth mother is a recurring character throughout the book as well, but that initial chapter, that setting of the scene… That’s a whole other story waiting to be told. I liked Cyril’s story, but I’d read a series about his mother and her two roommates, and I’d watch the HBO mini-series adaptation too. More of this, please!

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