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

The Heart’s Invisible Furies follows the life of Cyril Avery, beginning in the 1940s and jumping ahead every seven years and, in doing so, also outlining the history of Ireland in the 20th century and many of the changes it went through.

We begin with Cyril’s mother, publicly cast out of her church, family, and town due to her pregnancy outside of marriage. A teenage girl alone, she heads to Dublin, makes an unexpected friend and gives birth to her son in violent circumstances.

Cyril is adopted by the eccentric Averys, a brilliant and rather emotionally abusive couple who raise him with a sort of benign neglect, frequently reminding him that he’s not a real Avery after all. Cyril forms a close and confusing friendship with another boy, Julian, and over the years we watch their relationship develop as the world around them changes.

The book is very readable with interesting characters. Cyril is likeable and compelling through all his various life stages, despite his sometimes atrodicous behaivours and poor decisions. He is easy to sympathize with, especially as he struggles against the conservative norms of Ireland in the mid-20th century. The novel does not make Ireland look particularly like a place you’d want to live but by the end of the novel, Boyne does give a sense of just how much this country is changing. It is also quite negative toward the Catholic church, without offering much to balance out the sometimes over-the-top portrayals of religious prejudice.

Probably the weakest aspect of the novel is its many coincidences. I came away with the impression of Dublin being very small, simply because Cyril keeps running into the same people over and over again. Through his whole life, he doesn’t seem to branch out much in his acquaintances. At least not until much later, at which point it feels almost jarring because his life changes so much so quickly.

Any book that attempts to encompass nearly a century of history requires a lot of ambition and, I think, Boyne succeeds overall. He falls into a few tropes but the book is entertaining enough that it was an enjoyable read with interesting characters.

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