The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

About the Book

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 three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.

In this, 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.

582 pages (hardcover)
Published on August 22, 2017
Author’s website
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This book was a library loan. Yay libraries!

This book ruined me in the best possible way. First, it was impossible to put down. Secondly, it made me feel emotions I wasn’t sure books were capable of making people feel. Third, when it was over I wanted to scream because WHY DID IT HAVE TO END, DAMN IT. People, I had this book hangover unlike any book hangover I’ve ever had before in my life.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a book taking place in Ireland in the 1940’s to roughly current days. It starts out following the protagonist’s mother, who finds herself unwed and pregnant (by the village priest). He shames her in public, and she’s kicked out of the village, and basically exiled from her family. This woman, who is young and ignorant in the ways of the world, with literally nothing to her name but a few meager possessions, decides to head up north from Cork to Dublin and see what happens, test her fate there.

Things happen, and nothing really ends up the way it is meant to. She’s an unwed pregnant woman, and that’s a big no-no in Ireland at that time. She has to fabricate a story for herself to explain away her pregnancy and make it socially acceptable. Anyway, she does this and lands a job in a tea shop with a woman who sympathizes with her plight. Eventually, she has her son, who she gives up for adoption.

At this point, the story of our protagonist starts.

Now, there are a few things you should know before we continue on. First, this story is full of personal drama. I mean, covered in it, and that little summarization of his mother’s life, which barely takes up the first forth of the book, sort of gives you a flavor for the tone of the rest of it.

Secondly, this is a book that is stuffed full of people who exist in that awkward liminal space that sort of hovers at the edge of social norms. These are people who have to live a certain way to exist in the society in which they live, but they don’t fit. At all, and that feeling of not fitting, being the shoe that is one size too small, is felt throughout the book. It’s intense. It’s raw. It’s real. And it made this book really stand out for me. I’ve read a lot of books about people who don’t fit for one reason or another, but this is probably the absolute best, emotionally jarring portrayal I’ve ever read, and that’s what makes this book unforgettable.

You see, Cyril Avery, our protagonist, has a lot of reasons to not fit. He’s adopted. His parents treat him sort of like a favorite dog or a throw pillow. He’s never really had friends until he’s older than most kids are who make friends. His adopted father is a criminal, and Cyril isn’t hidden from his criminal activities, court cases, or the like at all. His adopted mother is a writer, and she sort of floats in and out of his life on a cloud of smoke. He’s a kid who isn’t a kid, with basically no ignorance toward life, and parents who make a very clear point to constantly say that Cyril isn’t their actual son, he’s just adopted.

Aside from that, Cyril is gay and in Ireland at this time, being gay puts you in jail. You become a social pariah, you’re an outsider. You’re a reprobate. Disgusting. You won’t get jobs, or have a family anymore, or exist in the world you know at all. It’s a taint that will destroy a person.

And this, of course, really messes with Cyril. He grows up not understanding his sexual orientation, and then once he does, he has to hide it. He tries to fit in by dating women, finds no appeal in it. He has a secret love, things happen and he has to make his way in the world.

Basically, this book is following Cyril, a man who exists in that liminal space outside of social acceptance, trying so hard to be what the world wants him to be, but no matter how hard he crams himself into that box, it just doesn’t fit.

It’s raw. Emotional. Unforgettable and important. Oh, so important. There’s a lot of heartbreak in these pages, but there’s also a lot of redemption, personal and societal evolution, and an exploration of how the forces of the societies we live in can fundamentally shape a person. That being said, Cyril grows and develops, but always somehow stays true to who he is, regardless of how hard that was for him.

This book is well written, incredible, and just about the best book I’ve read in a long time.

Read it, because, holy shit guys. This is good. It’s transcendent. It’s important. It’s… just wow. I’ve been looking for a book that could absolutely floor me and friends, I found it.


5/5 stars


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