In My Good Books: ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ by John Boyne

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a captivating novel which immerses the reader into the judgemental Catholic society of Ireland in the 20th century. This novel is certainly one of my top reads of 2018. It follows the life of Cyril Avery as he combats societal prejudice, the law and ostracization. Boyne’s novel is at times tear-jerking, as it explores Ireland’s dismissal and degradation of gay men, however the novel is equally comical as Boyne creates caricatures of strict Catholics and mocks the hypocrisy of politicians. Fundamentally, The Heart’s Invisible Furies captures the life of a young man as he searches for acceptance and love in the midst of societal disapproval and abuse.

The novel begins by following Catherine Goggin, who at the age of 16 is cast out of her home village following the discovery of her pregnancy. Catherine embarks on a bus to Dublin and never turns back. Having been the victim of Catholic shaming and abuse, Catherine believes she has escaped such hostility, yet she soon finds herself in the middle of a societal scandal. On a pivotal night, Catherine finds herself in a violent and dangerous situation which ultimately stimulates her labour. As planned, Catherine gives the child (our protagonist) up for adoption. The novel then follows the childhood of Cyril as he lives amongst his kind, yet futile, adoptive parents. Cyril attends a boarding school and soon develops a life-long obsession and fascination with his roommate- Julian Woodbead. Cyril’s teenage life can be described as a turmoil of embarrassment, confusion and overwhelming sexual desire. As he matures, Cyril turns to dingy alleys and lavatories in a desperate attempt to satisfy his longings, yet ultimately, he is constantly hiding from both the Irish authorities and his series of girlfriends as he is forced to deny his true sexuality.

Cyril is undeniably a victim of the strict religious Irish society. In the light of the positivity surrounding the LGBTQ community in 2018, the treatment of gay men in The Heart’s Invisible Furies is harrowing and shameful. Cyril’s confession of his sexuality somewhat comically gives a priest a heart-attack, hence illustrating the absolute disgrace and disgust that surrounded the topic of homosexuality. Cyril experiences the narrow-minded ignorance of the Irish society in the 20th century, as he is even subjected to a harrowing “treatment” by a medical professional and is consistently pigeonholed into heteronormativity.

In 1980 Cyril finds himself living in Amsterdam with his boyfriend, Bastiaan, and he experiences a striking difference between the attitude of the Irish community and that of the Dutch. He envies Bastiaan’s childhood in which his sexuality was not dictated as he freely “embraced his sexuality instead of running from it”. Cyril’s experiences in Ireland depict the power and danger of societal stigma, which dictated and confined the sexuality and life of gay men throughout social history.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies explores the AIDS crisis through the lens of Bastiaan and Cyril in 1987. Both work in a hospital in New York and witness first-hand the degrading effects of the disease and the scale of the crisis. Cyril and Bastiaan equally observe how the epidemic instilled a new wave of hostility, ostracization and abuse towards gay men, with the suffering victims of AIDS labelled as “dirty” and evil. Hence Boyne powerfully presents the physical, emotional and societal consequences of the global AIDS crisis in the late 20th century.

Despite the tragic and grave subject matter of the novel, Boyne creates an enjoyable read through Cyril’s amusing frankness towards the end of the novel and through his performed heterosexuality as he attempts to interact with women. Crucially the novel depicts the importance of family. Cyril finds himself existing in a “make-shift” family following his experiences in New York, yet equally the novel explores his unrealised relationship with his birth mother. Overall, The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a powerful novel which presents an unparalleled journey of one man who seeks love in a rigid and archaic society.

-Hattie Hansford 

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