When Cyril’s birth mother Catherine Goggin finds herself pregnant out of wedlock and outcast by her community at just sixteen, she has no choice but to give him away in the hope that he will have a better life. However, his adoptive parents don’t let him forget that he’s not a real Avery. Having never felt at home with his family, Cyril spends his life desperately trying to find his place in the world and we join him on a compelling journey as he struggles to discover an identity, whilst battling the harsh winds of circumstance and the attitudes of that time towards sexual freedoms.
A character cleverly developed to chime with Irish history, Boyne told us how the inspiration for Cyril came about when he “started writing the novel about a year before the Equal Rights Marriage Referendum in Ireland and created him as a representative of everyone who has struggled with their sexuality over the last 70 years in Ireland, when the country was not quite as liberal or forward-thinking as it is today.”
You’d expect such a beautifully crafted story to have been meticulously planned out but Boyne chooses not to plot his novels in advance; “I prefer to start with an idea, a theme or a character and let the story take me in the direction that it takes me. I had the basic structure in my head and also the fact that it would begin in 1945, at the end of the Second World War, and end in 2015 after the marriage referendum. Of course, as I’m writing certain ideas come to mind and I make notes about them but in general I don’t like to know too much in advance.”
Told in intervals of seven years, Boyne explains why he decided to structure the novel in this way; “I liked the idea of revisiting Cyril at different points in his life and seeing how he has changed in the intervening years. It also gave me an opportunity to look at how Ireland gradually changed too. They say that our bodies change all their cells every seven years and we almost become different people. That played a part in my thinking too.”
The Heart’s Invisible Furies is Boyne’s tenth novel (including his hard-hitting children’s book The Boy in Striped Pyjamas) but this is only the second time he’s set a story in his home country of Ireland, which he puts down to confidence; “most Irish writers write about Ireland and I always said that I never would until I had a story to tell. That happened with A History of Loneliness, when I explored the effects of the child abuse scandals within the Catholic Church in Ireland. I think I’ve reached a stage in my career and in my life where I feel confident enough to write about my home country and also about things that have happened to me in my life. There’s a lot in both A History of Loneliness and The Heart’s Invisible Furies that come from my own life while, before that, I tended to keep ‘myself’ out of the stories.”
There are some harrowing scenes in The Heart’s Invisible Furies which are just as hard to read as they were to write. Boyne particularly found the chapter set in 1987 in New York difficult to write; “it’s built around the AIDS crisis and I did a lot of research into the attitudes that existed in the mid to late ‘80s to AIDS patients. There’s a definite shift of tone in the chapter from the earlier part of the book because Cyril is changing too, less afraid of who he is and more willing to stand up and declare his sexuality. I tried to recreate the voices of different victims of AIDS in this chapter and it’s one that I feel particularly proud of.”
However it’s not all doom and gloom and the majority of the novel is comic in tone, with some hysterically funny moments, which Boyne felt were very important to include; “I’ve never written a comic novel before and, knowing that this was going to be a long book, I felt it was important that it have a comic element. When I began the second chapter, which takes place in 1952, and introduced Cyril’s adoptive parents, Charles and Maude Avery, to the story it opened out into something much colourful and humourous that I had written before. It was a lot of fun to do this as I was using a part of my brain that I’ve never really used in fiction before.”
It’s an unusual undertaking for an author to narrate the lifetime of a character and there are likely to be stages of their story which were more enjoyable to write. For Boyne, he liked writing about Cyril’s childhood and teenage years most of all; “it’s an area of writing that I feel comfortable with, having written five books for young readers, but I challenged myself here to create a more eccentric environment for the seven year old Cyril and a more troubling one for him in his teenage years as he begins to understand his sexuality. I liked the idea of Cyril being the only mature person in the house, even though he’s only 7, and I got a lot of humour out of that.”
Unlike Cyril’s mother, an author who doesn’t want her novels to be read, fortunately for us Boyne is more than happy to have as many readers as possible; “writing can certainly be its own reward but I must admit that the act of publication is important to me. I don’t want to write for myself or to write into a void; I want people to come to my books and hopefully enjoy them”, which we certainly do!
An entertaining and moving novel with a lasting message that the individual can be more powerful than the institution, The Heart’s Invisible Furies tells the story of Ireland through one man’s life. In the book one character, on discussing an author they admire, remarks “he tells a story, and that’s what I like…He doesn’t spend twenty pages describing the colour of the sky”. The same can be said for John Boyne, The Heart’s Invisible Furies has been crafted by a master storyteller and is guaranteed to sweep you away.