20 Books of Summer, #1: The Heart’s Invisible Furies


I only reluctantly decided to read John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, having become a little weary of novels which deal with the lengthy historical sufferings of gay men, and wishing that writers could find other stories to tell about sexual identity. However, I’m very glad that a string of positive reviews from other bloggers convinced me to pick up this doorstopper of a novel (my review copy is literally a brick: it’s so fat it can easily stand up by itself). In many ways, Cyril Avery’s story is indeed a familiar one. Born out of wedlock in Ireland in 1945 and given up for adoption by his teenage mother Catherine after the Catholic Church condemns her, he struggles with his own homosexuality from the moment he becomes aware of it. As Cyril lives through false relationships with women, encounters with the police and the AIDS crisis in 1980s New York, we catch up with him at seven-year intervals until the book’s epilogue in 2015. For much of his life, he conceals his turbulent emotions and sexual desire beneath a veneer of heterosexual respectability: while the novel’s title comes up in reference to another character, it could as easily be used to refer to Cyril himself: ‘A line came into my mind, something that Hannah Arendt once said about the poet Auden: that life had manifested the heart’s invisible furies on his face.’

The Heart’s Invisible Furies, however, is not a sad or depressing book, chiefly because it’s told as a comedy, rather than a tragedy, despite moments of genuine pathos. Most of its characters are delightful caricatures: from Cyril’s adoptive mother, Maud Avery, who writes novels but is terrified of publicity, and approached her one and only literary event by trying to read out the whole of her novel from beginning to end; to Cyril’s best friend and secret love, Julian Woodbead, who spends his time sleeping with as many women as possible and making up flamboyant lies about his life. Certain characters attain an air of greater seriousness, including Cyril himself and his mother Catherine, but on the whole, the novel is deliberately pitched as an engrossing romp. Boyne effectively balances this lightheartedness with the genuine pain that characterises most of Cyril’s experiences; in the middle of the novel, it felt to me that he had gone rather too far in piling on the misery, but by the end, Cyril’s story seems to make sense thematically, as he observes an Ireland that has just legalised gay marriage: ‘When the vote was passed… I was watching the news reports on the television,’ he says. ‘And there was David Norris. It’s a little bit late for me, he said, once he knew that it was a Yes and the country had changed for ever. I’ve spent so much time pushing the boat out that I forgot to jump on and now it’s out beyond the harbour on the high seas, but it’s very nice to look at… Why couldn’t Ireland have been like this when I was a boy?’

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is genuinely funny and, despite its length, very difficult to put down (although the weight of my copy meant that I sometimes had to do so). Here’s a picture of the monster, with tea cup for comparison:


10 thoughts on “20 Books of Summer, #1: The Heart’s Invisible Furies

  1. I was at best ambivalent about The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas and so have not been back to Boyle’s work despite, as you say, some excellent reviews (actually, possibly ‘because of’ given that the early novel garnered just such reviews itself). This is too big for me to consider at the moment as I ease my way back in to new to me books but I will make a note of how much you’ve enjoyed it and keep it in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t clock when selecting this for 20 Books of Summer that Boyne had written The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, and probably wouldn’t have chosen it if I had – I haven’t actually read The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas but I’ve been supervising a PhD student who’s been thinking about the distorting effect it’s had on Holocaust education in schools in Britain, so I’ve not formed the best impression of it! However, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, while not trying to be especially historically accurate, is unlikely to have a similar impact…


  2. I bought a copy after all the positive reviews too, but given all the other books I must read this summer, it was just too chunky for my 20 books pile. I am glad it’s so good, so It’ll stay on the shelf to await its time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t wait to get to this one. Or any of his other adult novels. I’ve only read three of his children’s books, but was impressed with them all and have been meaning to read something more adult from him since. Not sure yet which one it will be…

    Liked by 1 person

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