Off the Shelf Book Review: The Hearts Invisible Furies

By John Boyne Hogarth Publishing ISBN  978-1-5247-6079-3 585 pp. 2018

Recently a dear friend of mine, a former priest, recommended a book to me that he said was the “best book he’d ever read about Ireland.” Intrigued by his statement, I purchased it from Amazon and found it to be one of those books that are hard to put down despite its running almost 600 pages in length. The author, John Boyne, is the bestselling author of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”, a 2006 novel which sold more than nine million copies worldwide and has been adapted for cinema, ballet, and opera.

“The Heart’s Invisible Furies” (the title came from a line Hannah Arendt had once said about the poet W.H. Auden: that life had manifested the heart’s invisible furies on his face) is a bildunsroman type of story about an unmarried and pregnant sixteen-year-old girl, denounced as a whore and ostracized by her parish priest, who gives birth to a son which she gives up for adoption in the patriarchal state of 1940s Ireland. The boy, named Cyril by his adoptive parents, is the novel’s protagonist, and a homosexual.

Cyril’s early twenties were defined by the dangers of being gay in the 1960s and his intense longing for intimacy. The climax of Cyril’s discontent in Ireland can be seen in the hours after his marriage to Alice, a marriage he didn’t want to go through with but was forced into by Julian, Alice’s brother and Cyril’s long-time childhood friend. Rather than take his own life by jumping from the balcony of Shelbourne Hotel, he flees to Amsterdam and to the hope of a new life.

“The Heart’s Invisible Furies” charts many of Dublin’s haunts and landmarks from the Gresham Hotel on upper O’Connell Street to the Shelbourne on the other side of Ha’penny Bridge or from Palace Bar on Fleet Street to Bewleys and Switzers on Grafton Street. Anyone who has visited Dublin will recognize these places.
It is in Amsterdam where Cyril finds the companionship and love he longed for but never found in Ireland, in the form of Bastiaan. The two of them befriend a young boy from Slovenia who is estranged from his parents. Ignac becomes like a son to Cyril and Bastiaan for the rest of Cyril’s life.

Throughout the book there occur violent incidents which change the direction of Cyril’s life, from the death of Sean MacIntyre, a young man who befriended Cyril’s real mother upon her arrival in Dublin, to the death of Ignac’s father in Amsterdam to the death of Bastiaan at the hands of a group of homophobes in New York City years later, after emigrating to the United States during the Aids crisis in the 1980s, all of the death in some way connected to homosexuality.

Upon Cyril’s return to Ireland in the 1990s, his relationship with himself changes and his capacity to relate to others is also altered by Ireland’s progression into the twenty-first century as it becomes the first country to legalize same sex marriage by popular vote. Once he realized that the country had changed forever, he asks himself why Ireland couldn’t have become like that when he was a boy.

Cyril’s life comes full circle in the denouement of the book, which the reader should find fulfilling. The book dramatically depicts the drastically different social climates in Ireland from the novel’s beginning and its end. It galvanizes optimism for tackling even the most difficult challenges of today. I couldn’t put this book down and feel the reader won’t either. This is surely a TOP SHELF read.

*Terrence Kenneally is an attorney and owner of The Kenneally Law Firm in Rocky River, Ohio. He specializes in insurance defense litigation and represents insureds and insurance companies throughout Ohio. Terry received his Masters from John Carroll University in Irish Studies and teaches Irish History and Literature at Holy Name High School where he is also the President.

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