January 6th, 2018

book talk // the heart’s invisible furies.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne was recommended to me multiple times and also recently won the Book of the Month “Lolly” award for 2017, so I figured winter break would be a good time to dive into this 580 page tome. However, I have very mixed feelings about this book. While I recognize that John Boyne is addressing important social issues, I felt that many of the characters were simply mouthpieces for the author’s intended viewpoint and the plot devices were so contrived as to border on comical.

The story begins in rural Ireland where Catherine Goggin, an unwed and pregnant teen, is castigated by the parish priest in front of her entire congregation as a “whore.” She is subsequently kicked out of the town she grew up in and disowned by her family. The narrative begins here, in the 1940’s, and spans about sixty-five years, told in seven year intervals. Boyne is clearly making a statement about the course of LGBTQ social issues over this span of time. Initially, the story is told from Catherine’s perspective, but then switches to Cyril’s (her son’s) and tells the rest of the story from his POV.

While the writing is good, albeit not particularly challenging, it’s a lot of tell and no show. The reader is supposed to accept Cyril’s character evolution, but with the several year gaps, we don’t actually see it. Very dramatic and arguably unbelievable events (the pillar collapsing comes to mind) take place in each section bringing about tidy resolutions to each of Cyril’s problems. Then, the reader is pushed forward in the timeline — there is no point for the reader to linger and experience Cyril’s emotional turbulence and, thus, no opportunity to observe his growth.

Due to the aforementioned lack of development, I just never felt like I truly knew Cyril Avery. While I understand and appreciate that he experienced hardships as a gay man in Ireland when being homosexual was still illegal, I just didn’t like what I learned of him. He was selfish, arrogant, and more than a little reckless. Also, his treatment of Alice and then his insistence that she both forgive him and allow him back into her life (while he makes jokes all along the way), while also not being self-aware enough to realize he was just as bad as the man who jilted her before (possibly worse) made me angry on her behalf. While I can appreciate the sentiment of “let bygones be bygones” — his obtuseness regarding the quality of his own character when has has supposedly changed / evolved so much bothered me.

The lens through which Boyne allows the reader to view LGBTQ culture in different countries and decades is what made this book interesting for me. There is a little bit of dark humor, a lot of sex (much of it unpleasant), and some good dialogue. But it just didn’t do much for me. I thought it was terribly overwrought and lengthy. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara deals with these same issues, also spanning the decades of one man’s life, with a good deal more emotional connection and subtlety.

Rating: 3/5
Recommended For: fans of historical fiction, anyone who wants to read more about LGBTQ social issues or if you’re interested in reading more from John Boyne (he also wrote The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, fyi)