THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES
By John Boyne
Reviewed by Graeme Aitken
The Irish writer John Boyne is probably best known for novels that are grim – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is set against a Nazi Holocaust camp while The Absolutist explores a WWI conscientious objector. And the title of this novel might make you imagine you are in for more of the same and over almost 600 pages – except that you aren’t!
For while this novel does have its share of grim and dramatic moments, the overall tone is so much lighter. The book is fast-paced, very engrossing, and often very funny.
It covers the lifetime of a gay Irish man, Cyril Avery, from his birth to his impending death and does so in seven year cycles. So the narrative is constantly jumping forward seven years and the reader has to catch-up. It’s a technique that heightens the pace and the only downside is that characters you had become attached to often get left behind … except they might crop up again later on. The narrative also hinges numerous times on coincidences or happenstance, but the buoyant flow of the storyline is so engrossing they never really jar. There is merely an abundance of those serendipitous moments that can and do occur in life. The characterisation and the dialogue are the book’s great strengths. Cyril himself is often very funny but there are also many vivid portraits, such as his adoptive mother Maud, a novelist, who is horrified by the concept of commercial success for her work. Or Mary-Margaret Muffet, a pious conservative young woman who insists on attaching herself to the closeted Cyril as his girlfriend.
Any Irish readers are likely to especially embrace this novel as it is also a very incisive history and portrait of their country. But it is a book that deserves to be embraced by everyone, gay and straight, Irish or international, as it truly is a pleasure to read and also very entertaining.