I’m going to start this review with a serious confession – I requested this book by accident, without even having read the blurb so when it appeared on my shelf I was let’s say ambivalent at best about reading – thank goodness I didn’t realise how long it was (592 pages) before I put it on the spreadsheet that must be obeyed! Well this was the best mistake (and there are a few to choose from) in 2017!
For all that it’s hard to explain just why I loved it so much without giving away any more than the synopsis, so please bear with me while I alternately gush and mush this review.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the story of Cyril Avery’s life, from before he was born in 1945 until old age creeps in 2008 and a bonus piece beyond. Yes, I know that sounds like a saga, and it is, but not like any saga I have ever read. What it does have in common with that now unfashionable style is the depth of character that is gained by the sheer length of time covered, but John Boyne has decided that we will only catch up with our protagonist every seven years which means that the first time we meet him, he is a school boy living with his parents Charles and Maude in Ireland. But do not think that a seven-year old boy has nothing worth hearing, the scene is being set with an event that Cyril will carry forward with him and this characterises the beauty of the book; it might be a long book but nothing said ever feels like a filler, each part has either a meaning or its importance will become apparent later on.
I was drawn into the story right from the start with one of the most memorable openings I’ve read in a long while and although I didn’t have any preconceptions (that’s what happens if you choose a book with no more knowledge than the most famous book for children which the author had written) the style was far funnier than those absent preconceptions had anticipated.
But for all they never fought. Maude’s way of dealing with Charles was to treat him like an ottoman, of no use to anyone but worth having around.
That’s not to say this book is one big hoot, it definitely isn’t, to read it is to ride the highs and the lows of Cyril’s life with him as this shy, solitary schoolboy grows into a teenager and then to a man where he becomes a civil servant and beyond where he ventures out of Ireland.
The work itself was incredibly boring and my colleagues a little irritating, the engines of their days fuelled by personal and political gossip.
Sitting next to the vacuous and highly unfocused Miss Ambrosia
She generally had at least five men on the go, everyone from barmen to dancehall entrepreneurs, showjumpers to pretenders to the Russian throne, and had no shame in juggling them like some nymphomaniacal circus act.
The everyday scenes have imprinted themselves on my mind and I was soon willing things to work out for Cyril, because here we have a man who every time things seem to be working out, life has an uncanny knack of knocking him off his stride.
Of course just like in real life, some characters only appear for one of the seven year sections alongside Cyril, whilst some appear then fade into the background before reappearing, and some, sadly are with us for a few sections before disappearing completely. What never happens is that you are bored of any of the rich array of men and women who walk alongside Cyril.
And yet for all that this is a book which has something important to say, most obviously about Ireland and the position the church held, and the way they treated women and other sections of society, but along with the markers to show the passing of time, none of this is driven home in an unnecessarily heavy-handed way.
To bring this rambling and frankly unstructured review to a close, I will just say that I adored this book. I was deeply annoyed that I read it in the run up to Christmas, a time when it was necessary to put the book aside and engage with the three-dimensional people and do endless chores, all the time longing to get back to Cyril Avery and his tragedies and triumphs, the heart-breaking moments which are underpinned with its almost playful look at the absurdities of life.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers for providing me with a copy of The Heart’s Invisible Furies, allowing me to laugh and yes, sob, with Cyril Avery, this review is my thank you to them and of course the accomplished John Boyne. I just have to say if you read this book, and it is at a bargain price on kindle at this very moment, then do read the afterword by the author which is touching and heartfelt and explains where the inspiration for this book came from.