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John Boyne's tale of one man's life, all but from conception to death, is a funny, poignant, moving and at times heartbreaking story as much about Ireland as about its lead character, Cyril Avery. From high farce it turns on a sixpence to dark introspection, the literary equivalent of spinning plates, which it achieves with consummate ease and a very deft hand. From the opening paragraph (surely the perfect example of 'how to hook your readers with your very first line') to its final words it makes for compelling reading you both want to devour and yet never want to end.
Given the book is written by a gay Irish man there is more than a little to the story that is autobiographical, or at least extrapolated, as the author himself reveals in the touchingly honest afterword. He admits that his success as a writer to date gave him free rein to make of this novel what he has, juggling a range of styles and including a number of issues that are important to him personally. Not that this is to the novel's detriment in any way: it helps tell a full and complex story that will linger in the memory for a long time.
As triumphant as the novel is, its very nature dictates that it can never be as satisfying as it perhaps could be. As the narrative shifts forward seven years every 70 pages or so, covering the 70 years in the life of the aforementioned Cyril Avery, it focuses on key events and smaller moments but with far more going unsaid than is written on the page. In this sense, while its cast of characters is memorable and for the most part beautifully drawn, the shifting timeframe means that some are quicker sketches than others. One disappointment for me personally is that we don't really get to know Bastiaan, arguably the most important man in Cyril's life, as well as we ought to. (This coincides with the one section of the novel I felt was the least successfully indulgent, if you like, shining an otherwise admirable spotlight on the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and sacrificing characterisation a little in the process.)
Purely in terms of credulity the weak point of the narrative is that it involves a series of unlikely coincidences, with Cyril encountering key characters again and again in his life - which would require less suspension of disbelief if the setting did not change repeatedly throughout, taking the story to other countries and even other continents. It also gives itself permission at times to adopt traditionally filmic elements, which make the story no less satisfying (indeed more so in parts) but rather make it feel like the author is already planning his adapted screenplay for when the novel is turned into a lavish six-part mini-series. The final chapter is the most obvious example of this.
These gripes aside, however, I have nothing but good things to say about The Heart's Invisible Furies. From its laugh-out-loud moments via its thought-provoking interludes to scenes and sentiments that gave me pause to be thankful for what I have in life, it made for very rewarding reading. I often say with other books I've read that I would be happy to read them again; with this one I know for certain that I will return to it, hopefully many times.
P.S. One question for anyone who's read it and can perhaps set me straight: was it just my imagination, did I miss something or does Cyril's conversation with Mrs Goggin about the aftermath of the events in Central Park not tally with the information given elsewhere in the book? (Twice a trial is mentioned, but Cyril later tells Mrs Goggin that the culprits were never caught.)
Set against seven decades of Irish history, this majestic odyssey of a novel tells the compelling story of one man’s quest to discover his true self and, with it, a place where he can belong. From start to finish, it is an utterly absorbing read: at times shocking and tragic, at others poignant and funny. Boyne’s skillfully balanced narrative will make you weep, and then laugh out loud before the tears are dry on your cheeks. And it will cling, limpet-like, to your consciousness long after you turn the final page.
Cyril Avery, the novel’s gay, illegitimate hero, is a triumph of characterization, even for Boyne. Born in the wrong place at the wrong time, Cyril relates his inner and outer struggles with an almost dispassionate fluidity that serves only to heighten the confusion, anger and shame that define his existence. The light touches of often self-deprecating wit are a master stroke, adding an almost wicked playfulness to his otherwise tortured soul. Cyril is a character who effortlessly commands both affection and empathy, first as a boy, growing up in an adopted, loveless home, then as a man, tormented by his sexuality and plagued by tragedy even when he finally finds happiness.
The narrative itself has a lovely Dickensian flavor, with a fabulously eccentric supporting cast and a raft of odd coincidences and missed opportunities that in any other context would be deemed beyond the pale. Here, though, as Boyne works his magic and sucks you into his tale, credibility takes a back seat to the sheer enjoyment of the storytelling.
And enjoy it I did - all 600 pages. A magnificent, tour de force of a novel.
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If I could have given this 6 stars, I would have. As per all other comments, it's a magnificent journey through the decades. The characters come to life on the page, and move in to your heart. It'll make you angry about the bigotry, lack of humanity, barbaric practices and moronic prejudices of the Catholic church. It'll make you sad about unrequited love. It'll make you laugh and cheer at the sheer determination of strong, solid humans. And like all of John Boyne's work, it'll stay with you long after you've turned the last page.
I laughed out loud at this book, I cried at this book, I love this book. I don't have the words to adequately praise the beauty of this story. Cyril's life story so stunningly told. Believable characters, and situations reflecting the history of the time. The whole gamut of emotions. I have only just discovered John Boyne, but I am so looking forward to reading everything else he has ever written.
I really have loved the other John Boyne books that I have read and so settled down with a great sense of anticipation fully expecting to enjoy this book as well. Unfortunately, I was disappointed as I found the attempts to be comical quite farcical.
As usual it’s a good story from John Boyne about hypocrisy in Ireland to sex in general but to gay sex even more. Sadly for me the delivery did not live up to expectation.
Putting aside the Mills and Boone title, this is a masterpiece covering the life of a highly intelligent gay man from birth to death in the time span from the 1940s to the present. Set initially and finally in holy, catholic Ireland we learn of the oh so slowly changing attitudes of the church and population. The cruelty of the omnipotent parish priests, the double standards of the politicians and the resultant hiding and suffering of the homosexual minority and the banishment of a young, unwed pregnant girl from her family . Never the man's fault! The book ranges far and wide from backward, bitter rural Ireland via Dublin to Amsterdam , New York then home again. The main character Cyril Avery (not a real Avery) is such a likeable lad that I was rooting for him all the way as he matured, grew old and eventually found his place in the world. While many passages are deeply moving, there is also great humour. I must be careful not to spoil it, but I must mention a hospital conversation where a bigoted couple proudly show their ignorance of what it is to be gay. It is one of the funniest, laugh out loud exchanges I have read in a long time. In isolation it would make a hilarious sketch. The author, John Boyne, himself a gay man, knows of what he writes and it shows. His descriptions of life in the various locations are detailed and frequented by totally believable characters. The number of coincidences at times stretches belief, but are none the less acceptable in the context of this wonderful work.
I have had this book on my Kindle for a while and decided to select it at random to read one day. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and went into the book with an open mind. I didn’t realise until after I finished the book that John Boyne wrote ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ but I loved that book, so it was not really any surprise to me that I loved ‘The Heart's Invisible Furies’ too.
The story’s main character is Cyril Avery and the book opens with a pregnant teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community. We follow her struggle and learn that her baby, Cyril, is adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun.
The book portrays Cyril’s whole life. We see that he is adrift in the world and struggles to find his identity and a home. We are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. We meet a whole cast of characters and see them drift in and out of Cyril’s life.
The narrative shifts forward seven years every 70 pages or so, covering the 70 years in Cyril’s life, it focuses on key events and smaller moments but with far more going unsaid than is written on the page. The time we spend in each era of Cyril’s life varies and we meet a few of the same characters a couple of times, usually through a (slightly hard to believe) coincidence. The writing flows well and the characters and their relationships are well presented and engaging.
I loved this book. I love huge books spanning over time but this is a funny, poignant, moving and at times heartbreaking story and I was hooked from the beginning. There are moments of humour and also absolute devastation - this book is a rollercoaster for sure.
I have nothing but good things to say about ‘The Heart's Invisible Furies’ and I haven’t enjoyed a book this much since I read ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara 3 years ago. From its laugh-out-loud moments to thought-provoking and devastating scenes and times that gave me pause to be thankful for what I have in life, ‘The Heart's Invisible Furies’ made for very rewarding reading and I would highly recommend it.