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The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

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Article by Swirl and Thread ©.
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‘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?’ 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies was a book that was on my radar after recently reading, and loving, John Boyne’s latest novel A Ladder to the Sky. Published by Doubleday in 2017, The Heart’s Invisible Furies is described as ‘a novel to make you laugh and cry, while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit’ It portrays the life story of Cyril Avery, from his conception in a small parish in West Cork in the 1940s to his life as an adopted child of a wealthy but eccentric couple in Dublin. The reader is taken on an extraordinary journey as the history of Ireland is cataloged through the eyes of this ‘ordinary man’

1945, Catherine Goggin, sixteen years of age and pregnant out of wedlock, is called up onto the altar of her local parish church, where she is denounced as ‘an ignorant wee slut’ in front of all her family and neighbours. She refuses to name the father and is literally given a kick into her back and thrown out of the church, the parish and all that she holds familiar.

‘Get on out of here, you floozy, and out of Goleen, and take your infamy to another place. There’s houses in London that have been built for the likes of you and beds there where you can throw your back and spread your legs for all and sundry to satisfy your wanton ways.’

Angry, upset, distraught and in shock, Catherine leaves Goleen with a one-way ticket on a bus to Dublin but with a plan hatching in her mind. Catherine knew what she would do as soon as her baby was born. Determined and no fool, she soon makes connections for her initial arrival into the big city. These first few days and months are positive in some ways as she learns how to survive but she also bares witness to some shocking and life-changing scenes that will have an impact on her life forever…

Catherine soon finds work in the tearooms in Dáil Eireann (Houses of Irish Government) and settles into a routine that will be her saving grace for many years. After the birth of her baby boy, who we now know as Cyril, she hands him up for adoption knowing that she could not give him the life he deserves. His new home is that of financier Charles Avery and his wife Maude, a writer.

From the beginning it is made quite clear to Cyril that he is not a real Avery

‘Charles insisted that it was because he wanted to be clear that, while he was happy to go through with the adoption for his wife’s sake, I was not a real Avery and would not be looked after financially in adulthood in the manner that a real Avery would have been’

Cyril grew up in a solitary existence resulting in a very independent, yet some might say, odd, boy. On one occasion he meets Julian Woodbead, the son of the family solicitor Max Woodbead, and something stirs inside him. Still very young, he is confused yet fascinated with these feeling, unsure of what is happening. Over the years, as their friendship develops, the relationship becomes quite toxic, leading Cyril down some very dark paths.

Cyril Avery is never at peace. Forever struggling for his identity, his story is heart-breaking. As he strives to understand and accept his sexuality, he suffers great emotional pain and endures many heart-wrenching disappointments. Ireland was a different country through those years, a country very much dominated by the church and it’s teachings.

John Boyne approached this book in a very unique manner from it’s structure right through to the way the history of Ireland’s society is plotted over a seventy year period. The book is divided into ten chapters, each spanning seven years. Up to the 1980s, we witness quite an introverted Cyril, a person ashamed with his sexuality and living in fear in a country that held very strong beliefs on sex and gay rights. But during the 90s and 2000s, Cyril changed. He accepted his sexuality and was in a position where he could open up and be honest about being gay. This was, in part, due to the major changes that were taking place in Ireland, with us eventually becoming the first country in the world to bring in same-sex marriage.

“It’s not just about gay people, it’s about Irish society and culture and how Irish people took their own lives back from a dominant institution”– John Boyne (RTE Interview)

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is such an enveloping read as you become entrapped between it’s pages and it’s powerful narrative. I was completely smitten with Cyril, from when we first meet him at the tender age of seven right up to his mature years.

At approximately 600 pages, The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a compelling and epic tale, one that will completely captivate you as you get swept up in the story of Cyril Avery…one ordinary man.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.