Coming of Age (and Coming Out) in a Changing Ireland: The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne

It’s rare that a book makes me cry. Even if I feel emotionally impacted, tears don’t come easily. It’s even rarer that a book makes me laugh out loud. The last book that made me laugh was The Good Lord Bird. Even rarer than that? A book that does both. It’s been almost three years since a book did both, and that was All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. Well, The Heart’s Invisible Furies did it.

I didn’t expect this to be a funny book so at first, I was a little disarmed by Boynes’ biting, satirical approach. It quickly won me over. We begin as our protagonist, Cyril Avery, hasn’t even been born yet. We witness his mother get cast out of her family (and town) for being an unwed mother in a stunning display of heartlessness and hypocrisy, then resettle in Dublin to start over. From there we jump ahead seven years and meet Cyril, given up by his mother and living with his uncaring adoptive parents (think Dickens by way of Roald Dahl). This pattern continues throughout the novel–we check in on Cyril every seven years as he grows up, spanning from his birth to the present day.

As Cyril ages, he witnesses the stunning transformation of his native country from an oppressive, judgmental religious state to a more open-minded and accepting home. In many ways, this transition mirrors Cyril’s personal journey from a closeted gay child and teen in love with his best friend to an openly gay man living his truth. Indeed, overcoming Ireland’s religious views about homosexuality is a big part of what he must overcome in order to be happy.

As in any life, along the way there are tragedies and triumphs, losses and discoveries. Sometimes we must say goodbye to characters much earlier than would be hoped, while others come and go through the years. The ebb and flow of Cyril’s life progresses naturally–each segment effortlessly pulling you along so the pages fly by.

Part of me wanted to complain, as I was reading, that Boynes frequently brings Cyril to a big moment in his life only to end the section and jump ahead seven years so all we see is the aftermath, not the event itself. But I realized that none of the moments lacked emotional heft for me as presented–and there was perhaps a risk of cloying or becoming overly sentimental in those big moments had we been allowed to indulge them. The moments we do get land that much harder because Boynes doesn’t let us get emotionally worn out. Perhaps that’s exactly how Boynes managed the difficult trick of making me cry while reading this book. Three times.

I enjoyed this book so much that I look forward to reading it again at some point in the near future, and I do hope that you will give it a chance to captivate you as it captivated me. Easily one of my favorite books of 2017 (if not my favorite).

Grade: A

PS In accordance with my mission statement it behooves me to tell you that I received a review copy of this book through Amazon. I feel certain that I would have loved it just as much without that perk.

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne



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