“Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of our Lady, Star of the Sea…and denounced my mother as a whore.”
Even before he was born, and his pregnant, unwed mother was summarily exiled from her church, family and town, Cyril Avery had never quite fit in. After his mother gave him up, his wealthy adopted parents fed, clothed and educated Cyril but also made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t a ‘real’ Avery and kept their distance from him both physically and emotionally. As Cyril grew into manhood, he realized that he was very different from the other boys as they started liking girls. He didn’t like girls, at least not ‘that’ way, so he spent much of his early life pretending to be a different person. He even dated and got married, hoping that he would fit in. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
John Boyne’s newest novel, The Heart’s Invisible Furies tells the story of Cyril Avery’s life in seven-year intervals starting in 1945 and was dedicated to John Irving, one of my favorite novelists. Like A Prayer for Owen Meany, my all-time favorite book by Irving, Boyne’s epic novel draws a sympathetic and at times hilarious picture of a young man coming of age in a rigidly traditional world where he just wants to love and be loved. He leaves Catholic Ireland for New York and then finally in liberal Amsterdam, Cyril finds social acceptance and personal peace. It was the Irish author’s intention that Cyril’s emergence from the shadows of shame would mirror that of his country’s, where homosexuality was still illegal in the 1990s. Like Irving, Boyne is able to deal with serious topics with a light and often humorous touch. Cyril is such a genuinely likable character that I had a hard time putting down this book because I needed to know that things would turn out OK for him.
I loved this book and saw reflected in it the experiences of several of my college friends who struggled with their sexuality because it wasn’t acceptable to be gay in the 1970s, but who now are able to legally marry their partners.
Highly recommended. I think older teens would also enjoy this coming-of-age story of Cyril Avery.