Who is Cyril Avery?
John Boyne – The Heart’s Invisible Furies

Other books I read by this author: The boy in the striped pajamas

Sometimes it takes a few chapters to warm to a book. There have even been occasions where the final chapter made me like the whole book in retrospect. But sometimes, once in a blue moon, I start reading and it only takes me a few pages to know that I will recommend the book to everyone who breathes. So here goes: read this book! 

I cannot guarantee you will be as enthralled by this book as I was, there’s no accounting for taste. If the internet is to be believed, there are genuinely people who did not enjoy this book. These people are as alien to me as, well, extraterrestrial beings. Who cannot like this book? Do these readers have no sense of humor? Did they just stump their toe to the doorpost? Did they just loose their umbrella minutes before a downpour? I might have to accept the fact that I will never understand them. 

It is not always easy for me to explain to people why I do not like a book. This is especially true if I do not like it because of the writing style. When I try to explain, I tend to paraphrase Justice Stewart in the 1964 decision in Jacobellis v. Ohio, when he ventured to define obscenity: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced… [b]ut I know it when I see it …”. This ‘definition’ seems to work both ways: The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a book with my kind of writing. Why do I like it? Hard to explain, but I knew it the moment I read it. It was not only the writing in itself that makes this book such a winner, of course. It also tells a fantastic tale.

“Maybe there were no villains in my mother’s story at all. Just men and women, trying to do their best by each other. And failing.” 

On the surface, the book tells a rather tragic story about a boy, Cyril Avery. He is Not A Real Avery, as his adopted father tends to point out at every possible occasion. The book begins with an account from his birthmother and from there on forward tells Cyril’s story in intermittent periods of his life. The thing is, even though the story can’t not tug at your heartstrings (excluding the extraterrestrials I mentioned before), it does not feel like a tragedy at all. In the hand of another writer the story might have been turned into a heavy-handed tearjerker if ever there was one. But Boyne balances it out with his dark sense of humor and by doing so alleviates the sometimes bleak state of humanity described in this book. 

One the one hand the protagonist is written as a sympathetic guy who seems to have drawn the short end of the stick. Is is hard not to commiserate with Cyril as we read about his upbringing, his budding sexuality and his overall feeling of not belonging. On the other hand, Boyne is not afraid to make us question him. Cyril handles some difficult situations in his life with the finesse of a wrecking ball, making me feel vicarious embarrassment. That is probably one of the reasons I liked this book so much, though. Haven’t we all made choices in our lives that we maybe not exactly regret, but could have handled a lot better? 

The book also delivers an insight in Ireland of the last 70 years. We’ve all heard of the injustice that has been handed out by Roman Catholic Church to (among others) the Irish people.  Tales of the Magdalene convents and incestueus behavior of priests have been common knowledge for some time now. The subject of the story is therefore not new or groundbreaking per se, but it paints a picture of what life was like for somebody who definitely did not fit the mold, under the iron fist of the Pope and the law.

This book breaks your heart. This book brings you joy. This book will tell you exactly who Cyril Avery is. 

Sidenote: does anybody else really want to read Maud Avery’s books? I think I will put Like to Lark on my imaginary reading list. 

Image by Jonathan Bowers via Unsplash