The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Literary fiction, Historical fiction
Pages: 567 pages (Kindle edition)
Published: 9th February 2017 by Doubleday (UK) & 22nd August 2017 by Hogarth Press (US)
The Heart’s Invisible Furies is beautiful, heartbreaking, dark, and occasionally humorous.
If you follow my reviews, you should know already that literary fiction isn’t my favorite genre to read; I probably read, at most, one or two literary fiction book per year. But when I finished A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne, which I enjoyed very much, at the end of last year, I knew that I had to give his most highly-praised work, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, a read and I’m glad I did.
“But for all that we had, 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 buttocks after a drunken night out, leading each of us inevitably toward isolation and disaster.”
Born out of wedlock and ended up being adopted by an eccentric, to say the least, Dublin couple, The Heart’s Invisible Furies tells the story of Cyril Avery from 1945 until 2015. The seven decades of the story made the plot felt larger in scope; the passage of time shows Cyril’s continuous struggle as he tries his best to live the way he wants and find happiness. Two things that stand out the most to me from my reading experience of A Ladder to the Sky were Boyne’s utterly engaging prose and his incredible characterizations of Maurice Swift; the same things can be said about Cyril Avery and the narrative found within this book. One of the element that made The Heart’s Invisible Furies so engaging to read—great prose aside—was the way Boyne tackled many important themes—family, friendship, loyalty, identity, sexuality, wealth, and prejudice—through Cyril’s perspective. I’m not gay, and I don’t know anything about Ireland except that it has beautiful landscapes and music; I think it’s a good thing for me to read The Heart’s Invisible Furies because it, once again, reminded me the struggle that LGBT people faced back then that I have no way of understanding. I’m not saying that LGBT people don’t face any issue because of their sexuality/gender these days, but compared to the time that Cyril lived in, I like to believe that there’s been a vast improvement and I hope it continues to do so.
“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.”
Cyril, by almost all means, is a different kind of character compared to Maurice Swift, but Boyne’s writing has the capability to make sure that his readers understand what his characters are going through. Reading about Cyril as he kept on failing to find love was heartbreaking; neglected of normal parental love, the frustration, and loneliness caused by constantly living in terror knowing that no one will be able to accept him for what he is. All of these made Cyril’s story and character development worthwhile to read; the seven decades that involved Cyril and many people he met along the way gradually developed him and the side characters magnificently. The dialogue and banters were often delightful, humorous at times, and intense all at the same time. By the halfway point of the book, all of the characters’ voices and personality became so recognizable to me.
“It’s as if she understood completely the condition of loneliness and how it undermines us all, forcing us to make choices that we know are wrong for us.”
It’s not only the characters, what I found to be interesting about this book is how, in a way, Ireland also has its own development. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed A Ladder to the Sky; the first half of the book was a bit of a slog at times. The first half was crucially important in making the second half of the book significantly better because it’s all about groundwork and events that ended up shaping Cyril’s lives. However, there were many moments that felt repetitive; mostly dealing with Cyril’s sexual urges and thoughts. I get that this is a necessary process to his character development, and I won’t deny that it ended up making his character’s development more rewarding to read, but there were moments where I went “Oh, c’mon get on with the story.” Also, some of the coincidences in the book, although they made for a better storyline, were a bit too “lucky” and they required me to suspend disbelief.
“Maybe there were no villains in my mother’s story at all. Just men and women, trying to do their best by each other. And failing.”
The Heart’s Invisible Furies has often been hailed as Boyne’s best work and I can certainly see why; Boyne wrote about important issues and create flawed characters with complex characterizations incredibly well. It’s a story full of heartbreak and pain but not without the balm of hope, beauty, and happiness. Beneath the surface of Cyril’s journey, I believe that there’s an underlying message that sometimes, the journey to find happiness can take a lifetime. Never give up. Although I loved A Ladder to the Sky more than The Heart’s Invisible Furies and both of them aren’t in my favorite genre to read, I still would highly recommend them to any reader who’s looking for heavily character-driven stories, regardless of the genre preference.
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)