Book Review: John Boyne's THE HEART'S INVISIBLE FURIES

Updated: May 21

While a noteworthy commentary on medieval hypocrisy, The Heart’s Invisible Furies is, at its core, a tragic romance. With Cyril Avery, the anguished protagonist, as the casualty and consequence of an ignorant world that is learning, but not fast enough, Boyne, in association with Hogarth House, unhurriedly traces an ordinary man’s life across seven decades, two continents, and untold heartbreaks.


Born out of a wedlock to a banished sixteen-year-old, Cyril Avery’s life is fraught with disagreeable circumstances—a post-war Ireland being alarmingly misled by a hypocritical compass, an eccentric writer for an adoptive mother, a conceited, tax-evading adoptive father, and a dangerously charming, risqué-dream-inducing Julian, whose carnal consciousness has kept Cyril at his wit’s end. As years evolve into decades and Cyril’s urgent need to be loved and to love grows deeper, his life seldom remains tethered to lasting peace or sanity. Joy is transient, escapism is prevalent, friendships come at insufferable costs, and there exists no mold that could fit his evolving identity at an unforgiving time in history.


Joy is transient, escapism is prevalent, friendships come at insufferable costs, and there exists no mold that could fit his evolving identity at an unforgiving time in history.

Boyne has exercised his strong flair for characterizations to birth an odyssey ingrained in societal duplicity, grim ironies, tragic losses, but, above all, infinite hope. With a steely eye toward the Irish society, we see him submit a situation that opens doors for intense discussions on gender norms and societal prejudices. It is to his immense credit that all his characters demand sincere consideration, if not devoted attention. Cyril’s adoptive mother, Maude Avery, often steps in and out of her cigarette fog, denouncing any living form that may cross paths with her. During her husband’s trial, she lights a fresh cigarette in the stressful quiet of the courthouse, calmly tapping the ash midair. Cyril’s best friend, Julian, is a charming, promiscuous man, who during their first encounter as seven-year-olds explains to him how the Irish Church does not let girls be naked until they are married. He follows with an announcement that he wants to be a pervert when he is older. Then there is the priest who suffers a heart attack inside the confession booth when teenaged Cyril discloses his sexual orientation and in graphic details discloses the horizontal activities he wishes to pursue with other men. These are a few of the many deliciously sketched and carefully positioned scenes that inhabit the course of the book.


With a steely eye toward the Irish society, we see Boyne submit a situation that opens doors for intense discussions on gender norms and societal prejudices.

Hilarity pervades the storyline and is a desirable remedy to the darker spots of Cyril’s tale. Boyne's social commentary does not aspire to be didactic and, in good measures, blends with the plot lines seamlessly. Much like the protagonist, Ireland, too, evolves with her misfortunes. Eventually, this triumphant literary exploration lends itself as an unrequited love between a man and his country, between unyielding traditions and unfolding modernity.



Hardcover, 582 pages. Published on August 22, 2017, by Hogarth Press (first published February 9, 2017).

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