Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Oh, no, not again. I keep looking at this empty post and thinking, "Where do I start?" Sigh. Time for another self-interview. Today, I'm going to be interviewed by the little green dragon on my desk. Normally, he just stands around looking like he's going to incinerate my pink fairy but I keep her in a jar to protect her and she can use a day off from being stared at by a dragon, so . . . off we go.

Green Dragon (GD): Please let me eat the fairy.

Bookfool (BF): Nope, sorry, not happening.

GD: Bummer. So, tell us about The Heart's Invisible Furies.

BF:  The Heart's Invisible Furies is the story of an Irishman's life that spans many decades. Cyril Avery's story begins with his mother, who is thrown out of her hometown at the age of 16 when she falls pregnant. She moves to Dublin and there she gives birth. The story then leaps ahead to when Cyril is 7 years old and living with his adoptive parents and follows him throughout his life, from the point of his realization that he's attracted to other boys to when he's a man in his 70s. The Heart's Invisible Furies gives you a good overview of life as a gay man across the many years of Cyril's life, from his birth in the 1940s, through the AIDS crisis, and into the present.

GD: So, what did you love most about the story?

BF: The depth of story and characterization. The Heart's Invisible Furies has almost a saga feel, even though it spans a single lifetime. It's just beautifully expansive. I immediately was drawn in by John Boyne's immense descriptive power as he began the story with young Catherine's removal from the church, which was both serious and light-hearted at the same time. The description of Catherine's brothers is a good example of the light-hearted side:

My six uncles, their dark hair glistening with rose-scented lacquer, sat next to her in ascending order of age and stupidity. Each was an inch shorter than the next and the disparity showed from behind. The boys did their best to stay awake that morning; there had been a dance the night before in Skull and they'd come home moldy with the drink, sleeping only a few hours before being roused by their father for mass.

~from p. 1 of Advance Reader's Edition, The Heart's Invisible Furies (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

GD: And, what did you dislike about the story?

BF: Only one thing and it was never enough to make me even remotely consider putting the book down. Wading through the years of promiscuity was rough. In Ireland, it was illegal to be gay and not unusual for someone to get the crap beat out of him, get arrested, or worse. So, for many years, Cyril ends up furtively seeking out sex in places where other gay men are known to hang out: bathrooms, parks. There are no relationships; it's just quick fixes to satisfy their libido. That was rough reading, not just because you know that Cyril (who is a really nice guy, in general, but perhaps too shy for his own good) could be arrested or brutalized but also because it's just so very, very sad that it wasn't possible for Cyril to just be himself. He always felt like he had to keep his true self in the shadows.

GD: There's another thing you want to mention that you loved.

BF: What a mind reader you are, little green dragon! Yes, I loved the way the story is brought full circle. It's not a spoiler to mention this, by the way -- it's mentioned in the first chapter -- but the story begins with Catherine getting kicked out of her hometown and ends shortly after her return to the graveyard where most of the family she left behind is now buried. There's another scene beyond that but it's a spoiler, so I can't share, but it ends on an uplifting note and I loved it.

GD: How did you feel about the main character, Cyril?

BF: I liked Cyril and thought he was a good person, at heart, but there were times I wanted him to speak up, especially when he was with those closest to him. While the author makes it clear how dangerous it was for a homosexual to share his truth in Ireland, till recently, even with family or close friends, I still yearned for Cyril to find the strength to tell the people most important to him -- especially when he knew that not sharing could be hurtful to others. Incidentally, the relationship between Cyril and his best friend Julian is also at the heart of the story.

GD: Anything else worth mentioning?

BF: Oh, yes, my favorite interactions and characters. There's a very strong-willed but kind woman who keeps reappearing, over the years. You can't help but love everything about her and the scenes with her and Cyril are all great. Cyril's best friend, Julian, also has a sister who makes a brief appearance early in the book and then Cyril gets to know her years later. I always loved their conversations. They were among the most entertaining in the book. I also found Maude Avery, Cyril's adoptive mother, a fascinating character. I have a feeling she was among the most fun to create, from an author's viewpoint: a published writer who thought recognition was tawdry but who became posthumously famous. The relationship between Cyril and his adoptive parents (and their insistence that he call them by their names because he was not "a real Avery") never lost the gloss of its silliness.

GD: So, what's the bottom line?

BF: Highly recommended, especially to those who love a novel that you can really sink your teeth into. The Heart's Invisible Furies is almost 600 pages long, brilliantly constructed, clever, and deeply meaningful. I'm leaving out certain details that I'd love to talk about because I personally enjoyed the unfolding of the story, the struggles, and the surprises so much, but the bottom line is that I absolutely loved this book and want to read everything John Boyne has written, now. I appreciated his stunning descriptive powers, the balance of serious storyline and quirky characters, the fact that the book made me think, broke my heart, and mended it. I closed The Heart's Invisible Furies with happy tears in my eyes. I've read a lot of wonderful books, this year, but The Heart's Invisible Furies is really something special.

GD: I have to go incinerate someone, now. Thanks for asking me to interview you. It was not as fun as breathing fire, but it was nice and all.

BF: Uh, you're welcome?

Cover thoughts: While I like the looks of the cover shown above, I don't understand its purpose and I like a book cover that speaks to me in some way or really relates to the storyline. There are several other covers (not all English printings) that I found more fitting:

The one at left (apparently, the Brazilian cover) speaks to me of Cyril's loneliness during a good portion of his life, when he had friends but not the love and companionship that he desired. The other two images relate to the friendship between Cyril and Julian, which dominates a good portion of the book.

End note: This is my first read by John Boyne. Surprising, considering how much I love WWII fiction. I don't have the foggiest idea why I haven't read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, the author's best-known title, but it is definitely going on my wish list.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I seriously love this review format. I’m going to steal it some day. There’s plenty of books that are so hard to review and this format would make it much easier. I watched the movie version of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and regret it everyday. I took the book off my tbr list. I struggle with Holocaust stories. This one might not be so hard.

    1. Feel free to steal away, Jenny. The self-interview format really helps me when I'm having trouble figuring out how to get started. I've never quite figured out why it works so well!

      I tend to avoid movie versions of Holocaust stories, but I've read a lot of books about the Holocaust, over the years. I think maybe I'm just not able to face it in full color; perhaps I allow my mind to mute the horror a bit when I read. I can understand why you struggle; Nazis were brutal.


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