The Heart’s Invisible Furies ~ By John Boyne
582 pages ~ Hogarth Press ~ 2017
My Rating: 5/5 ⭐️s
“A line came into my mind, something that Hannah Arendt had one said about the poet Auden: that life had manifested the heart’s invisible furies on his face.”
This book is a thought-provoking, insightful, heartwarming, and bittersweet story of one man, Cyril Avery. As a baby, Cyril is put up for adoption by Catherine Goggin, a young girl who is kicked out of her small parish, country town in Ireland for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Cyril is taken in by a wealthy couple, who have very little time for him and barely notice his existence. Cyril discovers at an early age that he is gay and his relationship with his best friend, Julian Woodbead, proves to be a complicated one. Over the course of the novel, while in the midst of trying to understand his sexuality, and also find real love, Cyril has to navigate the hypocrisy of Irish society at this time (late 1940s-1980s). In his search for identity and meaning, Cyril’s life, just like all of our lives, is filled with moments of blissful happiness and moments of sorrow and loss. However, there are so many moments in this book that come full circle that it leaves you with a feeling of rightness, despite the heartbreak that you witness. The title couldn’t be more perfect. We all carry around burdens, pain, loss, and injustice that become etched on our hearts. These are our “furies,” and as heartbreaking as they may be, they are also part of what makes this life so beautiful.
What I loved most:
Although Cyril’s biological mother, Catherine Goggin, gives him up, she is still there for Cyril throughout the novel.
Mrs. Goggin runs the tea shop in the Dáil Éireann and when they are teenagers, Julian and Cyril try to order Guinness in her shop. When Mrs. Goggin realizes that they are too young to order alcohol, she chastises them. However, Cyril is never afraid of her. Instead, he is impressed by the way she scolds the priest who was supposed to be looking after them. – “I glanced back at Catherine Goggin and couldn’t help but smile at her. I had never seen anyone put a priest in his place in the way that she had just done and thought the whole thing had been better than the pictures.”
I loved that even though Catherine had to endure the pain of giving up her child, she was still able to have an impact on his life and in the formation of who he would become as an adult. Having witnessed the horrors of bigotry and violence at a young age, Catherine was also able to save/help Cyril through his own struggles with intolerance. His relationship to Catherine was a beautiful full circle connection at the heart of the story and it both begins and ends the novel.
Cyril’s adoptive mother, Maude Avery, is never there for Cyril in the way that Mrs. Goggin is, despite the fact that they live together. Although Maude is never loving or nurturing toward Cyril, you can’t help but love her character. She is so absorbed in her writing and her cigarettes that she hardly knows that Cyril exists, but she still seems to pop into his life every now and then to offer some profound remark that Cyril can’t seem to forget. Cyril doesn’t seem to understand Maude’s influence over him till much later in his life, but just like Catherine, Maude also influences Cyril in unexpected ways. I thought it was interesting that Boyne made Maude a self-obsessed novelists, who ends up becoming a revered literature icon after her death. I thought this was perhaps his way of commenting on the role of literature in the world, versus the role of literature for the writer. – “Popularity didn’t interest her. She had no desire for her novels to be read. She loved language, you see. She loved words. I think she only felt truly happy when she was staring at paragraph for hours at a time and trying to refine it into a thing of beauty. She only published her books because she didn’t like the idea of all that hard work going to waste.”
The country plays the role of a major character in the novel. And the hypocrisy that embodies it is evident from the first line of the novel when we learn that the priest who denounced Cyril’s mother as a whore and kicks her out of her family and her hometown, has himself fathered several children by several women. As a gay man growing up in Ireland, Cyril has to continually battle against this injustice:
“But this was Dublin, the nation’s capital. The place of my birth and a city I loved at the heart of a country I loathed. A town filled with good-hearted innocents, miserable bigots, adulterous husbands, conniving churchmen, paupers who received no help from the state, and millionaires who sucked the lifeblood from it.”
In one particularly heartbreaking scene, Cyril goes to the doctor in order to better understand his sexuality and the doctor refuses to acknowledge his sexuality.
“But you must not think for a moment that you are a homosexual because you aren’t.”….”Yes, it’s true,” he continued, “that there are homosexuals all over the world. England has lots of them. France is full of them. And I’ve never been to American but I imagine they have more than their share too. I wouldn’t think it’s all that common in Russian or Australia but they probably have some other repulsive thing to compensate. But here’s what you have to remember: there are no homosexuals in Ireland. You might have got it into your head that you are one but you’re just wrong, ‘it’s as simple as that. You’re wrong.”
It’s moments like this that made me want to scream, but I realize now that the reader needed these moments in order to understand the country and changes that would ultimately come. I loved the way that Boyne captures the country at this time and Cyril’s place in it. In attempting to understand his own identity as a gay Irish man, Cyril also has to come to terms with Ireland, the country that he loves. He tries several times to turn his back on his home, but his desire to try to fix this hypocrisy wins out.
There are so many beautiful relationships in Cyril’s life. From Julian, his first friends, who he becomes painful in love with. “…for all the luxury to which we were accustomed, we were both denied love, and this deficiency would be scorched into our future lives like an ill-considered tattoo inscribed on the buttocks after a drunken night out, leading each of us inevitably toward isolation and disaster.”
To his one true love, Bastiaan. – “I looked directly into his eyes and somehow already knew that seated across from me was the most important man I would ever know in my life. More important than Charles Avery. More important than Julian Woodbead. The only one who I would ever love and who would ever love me in return.”
The ending felt like a perfect culmination of all of those moments and he is finally able to find peace, while still taking with him the love of those around him. In the end, he is also finally able to make Ireland a more tolerant place for his Grandson, who is also gay. Just like life, this book is bittersweet. There are moments that make you laugh and smile, moments that make you angry and make you weep. This book left a mark on my heart and it is one that I will never forget. I would recommend this to everyone!
If you have read it or plan to, let me know! Happy reading! ~ XO
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