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The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

BOTTOM LINE: Sheer perfection

Genre: Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 22 August 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Cyril Avery is not a real Avery — or at least, that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his many years, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.

In this, John Boyne’s most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.”

My Thoughts: I finished reading The Heart’s Invisible Furies exactly one week ago as I type this, and I still cannot adequately put into words just how amazing this book is. I can only marvel at Mr. Boyne’s ability to create a story so profound and hopeful in spite of the main story being heartbreaking. No matter how cliched it might be to say so, Cyril’s story made me laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time, made me fearful, angry, jealous, happy, and reflective. It is unlike any story I have previously read in the visceral responses it caused within me. It is also one of the only novels that had me so spellbound that upon finishing it, I could only sit there with bowed head for at least five minutes as my heart caught up to my brain and I processed the wonder of the novel. I also could not start reading another book for the rest of the night. Yes, folks. It is THAT good.

Perhaps this is my own perception, but novels about Ireland tend to wax poetic about the country. Any novel set in the Emerald Isle typically portrays the country in somewhat rose-tinted pictures, not hiding the poverty or politics but not necessarily drawing attention to them either. Mr. Boyne does none of this. He shows post-World War II Ireland in all its bigoted glory. At the same time though, Mr. Boyne acknowledges why Irish citizens are perfectly willing to forgive and forget the harsh punishments and narrow laws that once dictated the land. He helps non-Irish readers understand the loyalty and sense of home that in general the Irish feel towards their country no matter where they live. Theirs is a country completely unique to any other, and only a fellow Irishman or woman can truly understand what it means to have lived there through the repression and eventual enlightenment of the country.

Of particular importance to Cyril’s story, and something I feel most people do not realize about Ireland, is just how powerful the Church was at one point in time. The power of the priests was absolute; the Church even went so far as to dictate the laws of the land to government officials. It is a society which is all but unfathomable to Americans with its separation of Church and State and tolerance of (almost) all forms of religion. Yet, it is vital to understanding just how fearsome the Church was back in the day to understand the decisions Cyril’s mother, and later Cyril, make.

While much of what molds Cyril as a young man is a direct result of Irish policy and bias, Mr. Boyne is careful to remind readers that his experiences as an adult are not totally unique to Ireland. Cyril’s lives in Amsterdam and in New York prove that much of the bias he experienced in his twenties while in Dublin would have happened (and did happen) elsewhere. Yes, some of what made Cyril so vulnerable is directly due to his upbringing, which is due to the harsh treatment his mother faced in her village – uniquely Irish. But the options Cyril has as a young twenty-something were not unique to Ireland. So, his story becomes an everyman story where Cyril’s fear, desperation, and longing becomes others’ fear, desperation, and longing. It is a key distinction that allows the story to transcend borders and generations.

From the opening sentence of The Heart’s Invisible Furies, you know you are in for a most unusual novel. Filled with tragedy and pathos as well as biting humor and social commentary, it sets the tone for the remaining 591 pages and does so brilliantly. Cyril touches your heart like no other character with his honesty and longing, while his desperation and isolation make you understand how people can give up on life. Yet, for all that, the story gives you hope. For if a country as backwards as Ireland – one of the most conservative countries in the world at one point in time – can change, then so can everyone and everything else. It will not be easy and it will not be rapid, but it will happen. And that is the best message of all.

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