Review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies ~ by John Boyne

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:

Cyril’s Mothers~

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.”

Ireland ~ 

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.

Relationships ~ 

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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Review: Alias Grace ~ by Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace

By Margaret Atwood

Anchor Books ~ 1996

465 Pages

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

My Rating: 4.5/5 ⭐️

What I loved most about this book is that it blurs so many social lines that we often try so hard to keep separated. The very nature of the book is ambiguous because Atwood uses historical facts from the real case/life of Grace Marks, while also filling in the blanks where no concrete information could be found. The reader knows the facts of the case, but the mystery that we are trying to unfold is the mystery of Grace’s mind, rather than the crime itself. Is she a vindictive, cunning murderess; is she an unwitting victim caught in a “wrong place/wrong time” scenario; or is she, as Dr. Jordan suspects, suffering from a mental illness? I spent the entirety of the book trying to figure her out, but then I came to wonder, “are we supposed to figure her out?” and I don’t believe that we are. Women, especially in Grace’s time (1843), were typically classified as either an “angel” or “seductress” who had the power to influence the men around her in either positive or negative ways. Although it was frustrating at first not being able to identify Grace, I found it really refreshing that the book never pigeonholes her. We never really know whether she is the influencer or the victim because she is both. Women are complex, fascinating creatures, and Grace was no exception.

What I loved:

• The narrative: The narrative is driven through Atwood’s gorgeous prose, mixed with actual letters and newspaper articles from the real-life case. Which makes it both historical fiction and nonfiction. Throughout the book, the point of view also switches between Grace and Dr. Jordan. This was so fascinating because both points of view are revealed through the consultations between Doctor (Dr. Jordan) and patient (Grace). This type of meeting would typically be confidential, but because the reader is “present,” it adds to the ominous and voyeuristic feel of the book. The reader is simultaneously given Grace’s life story and her point of view on the murders, while also seeing the powerful effect that Grace has on Dr. Jordan. Their relationship straddles the line between love/lust and power/submission. But an interesting question kept popping up for me: Was Dr. Jordan’s infatuation with Grace a reflection of his needs or Grace’s ability to influence him? Does Grace understand her influence over him, or is she oblivious? It’s never clear.

• Fantasy vs. Reality: Because the reader never truly knows Grace’s mind, it’s unclear whether Grace is “inventing” herself as she relates her story to Dr. Jordan or if we are seeing her the way that Dr. Jordan wants to see her. Grace states: “While he writes, I feel as if he is drawing me; or not drawing me, drawing on me.” This line suggests that Grace herself is unsure of her own reality and that she and Dr. Jordan seem to be creating an alternative reality together.

The only thing that I didn’t like: (spoiler)

• The seance (Grace’s hypnotism): I didn’t really care for the moment when the committee members hypnotized Grace in order to find out whether she was innocent. When the voice of Grace’s long dead friend, Mary, came through in the seance, she claims to have forced Grace to commit the crimes. I felt that this moment was attempting to create a quick resolution and it came off forced to me. If we read this as a performance on Grace’s part, then it’s fascinating and connects to her as the ultimate actress. However, if we read this as a comment on her mental health (which was the impression I got), I found it a little unsatisfying, mainly because we never get hints of this elsewhere in the book.

Margaret Atwood is an amazing writer. This is only my second novel of her’s and I am wholly convinced of her genius. I would recommend this is anyone, specifically those who are interested in the gender power struggle of this time period.

If you have read it or plan to, let me know! Happy reading!

~ Erin

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Review: The Book of Dust ~ by Philip Pullman


The Book of Dust: Volume One ~ La Belle Sauvage ~ by Philip Pullman

Knopf ~ 2017

My Rating: 5/5 ⭐️

Philip Pullman is a master craftsman of the slow spun tale. His rich, building, lyrical style is so comforting that it draws you into a parallel universe. The hero of this story is 11 years old Malcolm, who is from a working-class family that runs an Inn called The Trout. He is friends with the nuns at the local priory, where he begins to love a baby girl named Lyra. Lyra is in the protection of the nuns because she is the product of a scandalous affair between two well known public figures. Malcolm also helps his parents at their Inn, which he is meant to take over someday, but he longs to live a life in the pursuit of knowledge. Throughout the book, there is a constant theme of scholastic pursuits vs. manual labor, the worthiness of both, and the role each play in the war against organized religion, which is attempting to cut off free thought and expression. Malcolm gets caught up in this war and starts to spy on the patrons of The Trout. These intrigues, combined with this connection to the scholar, Dr. Relf, force Malcolm into a dangerous game where he becomes the unwitting protector of baby Lyra, who is the subject of a prophecy by the witches of the North.

Here’s what I loved:

*Malcolm’s Journey- In the process of protecting Lyra, Malcolm goes through a series of tests that challenge both his practical skills and his intelligence. He faces all manner of magical creatures: King Triton/Father Thames, a fairy woman who longs for a baby, a garden of people trapped in purgatory because they can’t look behind the fog. He also faces challenges from non-magical creatures, such as his classmates, neighbors, and Hugh Bonneville, an outcast from the scholastic world who needs Lyra to reclaim his position. Malcolm must constantly prove his abilities and his worthiness to protect his treasure, Lyra. Through these tasks, Malcolm and the reader are forced to contemplate questions of about life/death, humanity, consciousness, friendship, and love.

*Dust & the mystery of consciousness – “investigating the mystery of consciousness- human consciousness – that is, why something entirely material, such as the human body – including the brain, of course –  should be able to generate this impalpable, invisible thing – awareness.”  Though there is never a clear understanding of what Dust is exactly, the theory is that Dust is a particle that contains human consciousness. Therefore, human consciousness is not only confined to the mind and to the spirit, but to a particle. The church is anxious to stop all research into this particle, for fear that it will undermine their teachings and their authority.

“Once we use the word spiritual, we don’t have to explain anymore, because it belongs to the Church then, and one can’t question it. Well, that’s no good to a real investigator of nature….he finally arrived at the extraordinary idea that consciousness is a perfectly normal property of matter, like mass or anbaric change; that there is a field of consciousness that pervades the entire universe.

We all grapple with our own mortality and the idea of consciousness. I found the idea of Dust to be quite beautiful.

From the alethiometers, to the daemons (animal familiars who house part of the human soul); there so much magic in this book that I could write about it all day, but I will leave it for you to discover yourself. I should also note that this book/series is a prequel to Pullman’s His Dark Materials Series, which I have not read yet. I have gathered that those books feature Lyra’s fate which is just being hinted at in this book. This was my first introduction to Pullmans’ world and I definitely plan to read the HDM series this year. I can’t say enough about the beauty of this novel and the subtle moments of contemplation that come from sharing Malcolm’s journey. Malcolm changes and matures over the course of the novel, and it was wonderful to accompany him. I’m looking forward to reading HDM and the rest of this series.

I would love to know your thoughts if you have read this or plan to. Also if you have read the HDM series, let me know.

Thanks for stopping by and happy reading! ~ XO

For more information on the book, click here: The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman <

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