BookBrowse Reviews The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

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The Heart's Invisible Furies

A Novel

by John Boyne

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne X
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2017, 592 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2018, 592 pages

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A sweeping saga of one gay man's life over 70 years of Irish history, by the author of The Boy In the Striped Pajamas

Of the 20 First Impression reviewers of The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne, 16 gave it four or five stars, netting an overall rating of 4.6 out of 5.

What it's about:
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne is a tragic, funny look into being gay in an evolving Ireland (Jill S). The story follows the life of Cyril Avery from 1945 to the present day, from his birth out of wedlock to his upbringing as an adopted, mostly neglected, closeted gay man in Dublin, and later, as life choices propel him far beyond Ireland itself. Cyril is an astute observer of the people he meets, the places he lives, and of history; through him we meet a wonderful cast of characters and observe sweeping social changes, even as Cyril matures, finds himself, and forges bonds he never expected (Janice P).

The author touches on a variety of subjects:
There are numerous themes at play here: obsession vs. love; bigotry vs. openness; and cultural influences vs individual integrity. Instead of being heavy-handed in dealing with such lofty topics, John Boyne employs a steady undercurrent of humor that is disarming in its subtlety but often laugh aloud funny. The thread of the mother/son connection knits together the story as it weaves in and out of the narrative (Peggy A).

Boyne dedicates his novel to John Irving, and there do seem to be similarities in writing style:
Irving's works are characterized by two key themes: the absent parent who looms large in his/her offspring's life, and the role of predetermination merged with coincidence. Both these themes are in ample display here (Jill S).

Readers felt enriched by the story:
Along the way, through Cyril's voice the author awakened me, more than any other writer has done, to what it is like, out of necessity or fear, to live every hour of every day in a lie. He takes the issue of homophobia out of the public arena and brings it into the human soul, making us feel the damage, the pain, and the ripple effect upon others. (Janice P).

Most felt the author excelled at character development, particularly concerning the main character:
The character development is superb (Carolyn S); they are interwoven in ways that delight and keep you reading (Nicole S). Each individual we are introduced to is struggling with some facet of acceptance of themselves because of societal pressures to conform (Susan P). Cyril is achingly human on his life's journey: he struggles; he loves imperfectly; he makes mistakes; he loves again and finds happiness only to have it snatched away (Lorri S). He is often lonely and isolated, but he is always likable to the reader, even when he makes poor decisions (Viqui G).

A few found the novel lacking:
Boyne is attempting something rather epic here, letting one man's story stand in for the history of homosexuality over the last five decades and in several locations. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. He also strives to bring the characters full circle; Cyril unknowingly keeps running across his birth mother, and the figure of Julian, his first crush, makes several reappearances. An interesting effort, if not always successful (Deborah M). Although I enjoyed the read, many themes were repetitive and too long. I think the novel would have been improved with tighter editing (Viqui G).

The majority, however, truly enjoyed The Heart's Invisible Furies:
This book grabs you from the first page and keeps your attention until the last. I enjoyed every minute of the rather complex story (Susan P). Boyne has written a remarkable novel that moved me to tears and made me laugh out loud (Barbara C). I was totally engrossed (Jill S); it's my vote for best book of 2017 (John W).

Recommended to a wide audience:
With big themes wrapped in a very human story, this would be a solid pick for readers and book groups who like family sagas with an edge (Lorri S). I would recommend this one to anyone (Susan P).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2017, and has been updated for the March 2018 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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