Thursday, March 11, 2021

Fiction Review: The Heart's Invisible Furies

I was excited when my book group chose The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne because I've wanted to read it ever since its release a few years ago. It won a literary award and was on several Best of 2017 lists, and I enjoyed Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I absolutely loved this epic, moving novel with a great sense of humor.

The story follows the life of one man in Ireland, starting in 1945, just before his birth, and moving through the decades to the present. It begins when when his mother, a teen girl from a small town in County Cork, is publicly shamed by the local parish priest for her pregnancy and then thrown out of both the church and her family. She gets on a bus to Dublin, makes a new friend, and settles into the unfamiliar city with a new job while she waits for the baby to come. When Cyril is born, he is quickly adopted by a wealthy Dublin couple, where he is provided for materially but not emotionally. The novel follows Cyril through each stage of his life, in seven-year intervals, and focuses on his struggles with realizing he's gay, hiding his true self because of the time and place, and gradually coming to accept himself. After years of pretending to be something he's not, Cyril's secrets finally come out, at the worst possible time, and he flees from Ireland. His life goes through many ups and downs, loves found and loves lost, and all sorts of career changes. At the same time, through Cyril's experiences, the author describes several different places and times, including Ireland from the 1940's to the 1970's, Amsterdam and New York in the 1980's, and Ireland in modern times.

What makes this book so special is not just its fascinating story of growing up gay in Ireland in the 1950's and 60's and learning to accept oneself, but the way the story is told. I was immersed in Cyril's world from the early chapters and engrossed every step of the way. While Cyril suffers some devastating losses, the novel is also very, very funny throughout, thanks to the author's incredible wit. It's hard to convey in a review, but he uses brief descriptive phrases that stopped me in my tracks, took me by surprise, and made me laugh out loud, like when Cyril's adoptive mother, an author who hates publicity, is approached by a fan: 

""Can I help you?" asked Maude, turning to her with all the warmth of Lizzie Borden dropping in to say goodnight to her parents." 

In another example, Cyril as a young man is trying his hardest to be a "normal" man and attempts to kiss his stone-cold girlfriend:

""Excuse me," she said, rearing back on the sofa with an appalled expression on her face. "What do you think you're doing, Cyril Avery?"

"I was trying to kiss you," I said.

She shook her head slowly and looked at me as if I'd just admitted I was Jack the Ripper or a member of the Labor Party."

At other times, as when an older Cyril who is more accepting of himself encounters outrageous ignorance in people who don't realize how ignorant they are, entire scenes kept me laughing out loud for pages (and greatly annoying my husband, who was trying to read his own book). 

This book has it all. It is heartwarming and heartbreaking and made me cry twice (in between my laughter). For me, the best measure of a really great book is that it makes me feel, and this novel did that over and over. It is a moving, poignant, and very funny story of the life of a good man who was born in the wrong time and place and overcomes many challenges to find happiness.

592 pages, Hogarth

Random House Audio

(If you're looking for a great book for this year's Big Book Summer Challenge, this would be a good choice!) 

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, from the start of the novel, and/or download it from Audible.


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local:    


Or you can order The Heart's Invisible Furies from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.



  1. So glad you liked this one -- it was one of my favorites!

    1. Me, too! I rarely rate a book a 10, but I did with this one. Definitely in my Top 10 favorites!

  2. This sounds really good (and I like the prompt to read it for the Big Summer Book Challenge!)

    1. It's coming up!! Time to start planning! I already have a bunch of Big Books on my shelves - the challenge always helps with my TBR shelves, too :)