John Boyne’s latest novel, The Heart’s Invisible Furies is not just about Cyril Avery’s life story but rather the history of a country, the author’s native Ireland, and how the society changes over this character’s lifetime. As one might expect from a novel that starts off in the 1940s, there are constant references to the war, controversial and conflicting opinions about government but prevailing over all, oftentimes prevailing even over good sense, is the far reaching effects of their brand of drunken religion as the nation of “good Catholics” spin rosary beads while they sin. Boyne’s story is a satiric unsettling of what you expect you know of mid-twentieth century Ireland and its citizens – their characteristic names, their affection for Guiness and their particular brand of Gaelic vernacular which creates small clusters of sameness and renders everyone else an outsider, even those who previously felt like they belonged and now have nowhere else to go.
Over the course of 580 pages, Avery tells the story beginning with his prenatal experience as the child in his young, unwed mother’s womb, the conception for which she is expelled from her family and her Goleen home but not before she is shamed in church by the priest who, the author is quick to point out, still has the authority he will lose when his own sins are exposed. In Dublin, Catherine finds a job but only by inventing a story of widowhood that is more acceptable than the real tragedy of her life, which is biting commentary on why we often prefer lies to truth. The job is as a servant girl at the Dail Eireann (House of Representatives), ironic since she serves those elected as “servants of the people”, so that when they complain that her advanced pregnancy makes them uncomfortable, it is only then that they truly represent the ideals of the people who elected them, the same people who would lambast and denounce a girl who’s been a victim of abuse.
The man who takes Catherine in, refuses to call her anything but Kitty, maybe to torment her with the constant reference to a stray animal who refuses to leave once you’ve started to feed him. But as the young girl who is forced to throw herself on the mercy of strangers, depending on them to be kind where her family has turned their backs on her, Kitty intercepts and impacts their stories and by narrating it, her son illustrates the prejudice of the times against outsiders of whatever ilk. Later, Cyril is adopted, given away by his mother but not truly taken in by the people who raise him so his identity crisis is not just a response to the society that doesn’t create a place for him but also about those who should be our protectors and how they fulfill their roles.
As the story of a life, this was a fascinating novel but as an allegory for a society in flux, I found it to be so much more poignant and even where the discrimination and violence makes the story hard to read, the prose will probably keep you turning pages, eager to discover how Cyril Avery’s story ends and what will become of the society that his life represents.
- Title: The Heart’s Invisible Furies
- Author: John Boyne
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 580
- Publisher: Hogarth
I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in order to complete this review. Amazon affiliate links are also provided where you can click and purchase and help support this blog.