Calling The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne a masterpiece of American fiction is not an exaggeration. IT IS PHENOMENAL. Seriously, whole nights of sleep have been ruined by this book.
I will admit that its sheer size (almost 600 pages) intimidated me, but I made a commitment to read it because of its laundry list of awards and one of the most gripping first sentences in a novel to come along in years. It is now destined to be one of my favorite books of the year, maybe even of all time.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies is narrated entirely by Cyril Avery, a brilliantly flawed and hopelessly endearing character. We follow his life story from 1945 to 2015, from Shame to Exile to Peace (the titles of the three distinct parts of the book), as a gay man coming of age in Catholic Ireland. We bear witness to the “dishonest portraits of [himself]” and to the extreme loneliness of his early sexual encounters. “I had never looked into anyone’s eyes before. I could remember some faces, some haircuts, some shoes, but the color of their eyes?”
But it is not all hell and damnation. Cyril’s carefully honed voice can be snarky, petty, literal and self-absorbed making this book as laugh-out-loud funny as it is heartbreaking. Take the mother and son who live next to him as a child: “the former entirely mute, the latter completely blind—and yet between them they monitored our comings and goings with all the efficiency of a government intelligence agency.” Or Mr. Denby-Denby whom he worked alongside in the sixties: “a rather flamboyant fellow … his hair in a bouffant style … a curious shade of sickly yellow, more a chartreuse than anything else, although his eyebrows were closer to maize.”
The Heart’s Invisible Furies is dedicated to John Irving and it did remind me a bit of A Prayer for Owen Meany, though I couldn’t tell you exactly why. Maybe it’s that both novels share the same basic premise: “Just men and women, trying to do their best by each other. And failing.”
Best paired with an enormous steak bleeding onto the plate followed by cream buns and coffee in an Irish tearoom.