Review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne follows the story of Cyril Avery, born out of wedlock to a young Irish girl who is cast out of her rural Catholic community. Adopted by an eccentric pair of rather unloving parents, Cyril is adrift and finds fascination (and infatuation) in his charming and dangerous school friend, Julian Woodbead. 

In the opening chapters, Cyril’s mother witnesses brutal violence that casts a shadow over the rest of the narrative. A homophobic attack serves as a bleak and distressing reminder of the hate and intollerance these characters face. 

In this 600-and-something page long bildungsroman, Cyril grapples with every element of his identity as a young man born in 1940s Ireland. Inside, he’s discovering his sexuality and trying to understand his strange familial relationships. On the outside, he’s surviving political turmoil and pervasive religious bigotry. It’s a storm of angst and uncertainty that rumbles through the whole novel. Cyril is a conflicted boy living in a divided world, trying to find somewhere that feels like home. As he grows up, his teenage struggles grow with him and mature into a whole new set of challenges and relationship woes. 

“It was a difficult time to be Irish, a difficult time to be twenty-one years of age and a difficult time to be a man who was attracted to other men. To be all three simultaneously required a level of subterfuge and guile that felt contrary to my nature.”

The novel is tragic, laugh out loud funny, devastating, heart wrenching, infuriating, and toe curling. No single emotion is left untouched. It’s vast and heavy (literally and thematically) – a true ‘cradle to grave’ story, rich with detail and peppered with a full cast of complex characters (exactly the kind of book I love to read). It’s clear to see why Boyne is often compared to Dickens – his melody of bizarre and flawed characters, wry wit and cinematic storytelling creates pure magic on the page. 

Admittedly, I’ve never read anything so filled with unbelievably illogical coincidences. Boyne lets his readers imagine what would happen if, by some bizarre fate, two characters met again by chance…then he actually gives us those moments, regardless of how ludicrously unlikely they would be in real life. The result, a truly engrossing and riveting read.

The plot references and delves into many of the seismic events that took place between 1940s and 1980s in Ireland and America, most poignantly the AIDS epidemic. The scenes that take place on an AIDS ward in 1980s New York are visceral, stark and evocative. Every line emphasises how this crisis shaped the lives of those who encountered it. 

Cyril’s mother, although absent from much of the novel, acts as an antithesis to the discriminatory institution that throws her into the abyss as a pregnant teenager. She is a much needed antidote to the dogma and judgement that exists all around her. For me, the sentiment of this novel was quite beautifully summed up in one particular line…

“All these people… and all of that trouble. And look, they’re all dead now. So what did it all matter in the end?”

Like with all the books I really love, I find reviews tricky. It’s certain that I won’t do them justice. All I can say is that there’ll always be a place on my bookshelf reserved for this wonderful novel. 

Have you read The Heart’s Invisible Furies or any other John Boyne novels?

4 thoughts on “Review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies”

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