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The Heart's Invisible Furies
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2018 Book Discussions > Hearts Invisible Furies - Whole Book - spoilers allowed! (Apr 2018)

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Doug Welcome to the group read of John Boyne's 'The Heart's Invisible Furies'. I initially nominated the book back for the March read to impel me to read it myself, since I'd owned a copy for over a year and every time I picked it up it looked too daunting - both in length and because I had this notion it would be too complex (a la Joyce). I started it myself last Mon., and finished it Thurs., so neither of those fears proved true ... and I hope if you have similar ones, it won't dissuade you from participating. Anyway, I LOVED it and hope you find similar enjoyment. My review is here (it contains no major spoilers, but you might prefer to read it after you have finished the book yourselves):

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Rather than proffering specific topics, as I usually do when moderating, I think I will let the group guide the discussion - so dig in and share what your thoughts are! This thread is for discussion of the book as a whole, and spoilers ARE allowed. There is a separate thread for general discussion, in which spoilers are NOT allowed.


message 2: by Sue (last edited Apr 03, 2018 07:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Such a wonderful book! I'm planning to spend some time reading more of John Boyne's work.

I loved the "every 7 years" aspect to the story. And while I don't mind flash-backs or books written with simultaneous timelines, it was wonderfully refreshing to read a book with a single narrator telling the story from beginning to end. And starting the narrator's voice before he was even born was an interesting choice.

The big theme for me was the Catholic church and society vs "others". With "others" being defined as unwed mothers (or women in general) and homosexual individuals. The other big theme for me was that love and humanity and hope prevail in the end.

I was amazed to learn that homosexuality was only "decriminalized" in Ireland in 1993. I looked up the topic on Wikipedia if anyone is interested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_ri...
I guess I "knew" in the back of my mind that homosexuality was against the law in the past, but I honestly never really thought that had been true within my lifetime - at least not in the West.

I also never considered what it would be like to live in a society where your core sense of who you are would be illegal. There are still places in the world where it's still considered OK to beat up, murder, imprison or execute someone due to their sexual preferences. Amazing and sad.

I loved how there were no loose threads in the book. This is clearly not how *real* life works, but it can be very satisfying in fiction. Cyril and his birth mother find each other (finally) - I had been starting to think that the pre-birth narration was just going to be left hanging out there unexplained. I really appreciated the Cathrine Goggins/Jack Smoot story line, and how much it intersected with the Cyril/Bastiaan/Ignac story line.

And with Cyril, Julian, Alice, Charles and the eventual children and grandchildren, we're reminded that family and friendship can endure some really awful behavior. Again in *real* life, relationships don't usually survive some of the things these characters did - but I liked the love and hope theme as a counterpoint to the hate and hopelessness of church and society as represented in the story.

The book had a few cultural references that seemed to not be all that central to the story - the Holocaust, the AIDS epidemic, 9/11 - but it did ground the story in a particular place and time.

I'm looking forward to hearing what others think of the book.

(As one last note, I had the privilege to visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in that great city.)


Doug Sue wrote: "Such a wonderful book! I'm planning to spend some time reading more of John Boyne's work.

I loved the "every 7 years" aspect to the story. And while I don't mind flash-backs or books written with ..."


Thanks for your thoughts Sue, and so glad you enjoyed the book too!

One of the interesting things about the whole homosexuality angle is that even though Ireland had a long history of discrimination and laws against such, largely due to the Catholic influence, it was actually the first Western nation to legalize same-sex marriage - which Boyne pointed to as one of the impetuses for him to write the book.


Robert | 446 comments Sue wrote: "Such a wonderful book! I'm planning to spend some time reading more of John Boyne's work.

I loved the "every 7 years" aspect to the story. And while I don't mind flash-backs or books written with ..."


Re Anne Frank House - yes! in fact I read the book shortly after I visited it - I like it when those coincidences crop up.


Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments Sentences in the first 100 pages that have caught my ear (but, yes, I am reading, not listening to, the book):

"Yes, well he [Freud] also said that the Irish were the one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever."

"...she [Maude] extinguished her cigarette in the center of an egg yolk..."

"They don't put women on that [tea towels]. Only men. Although they do let us use it to dry the dishes." (I have my doubts Brenda ever allowed Maude to dry dishes, or that Maude would have tried.)

"A moment later, a cloud of smoke entered the the room followed, inevitably, by Maude." Portrait of a character -- and a time.

Or there is the opening line, to set the tone: "Long before we discovered ...."


message 6: by Lily (last edited Apr 05, 2018 12:08PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments The cruelty and brutality struck me in these first pages, from Father James to Catherine's family to Mrs. Hennessy's story to Jack Smoot's demise (? has he really been murdered by his father). But Boyne also chronicles the tiny bits of kindnesses and caring that serve to make such abuse livable. Along with the stupidity, cupidity, rapacity, and ridiculousness.


Lucy | 8 comments It’s difficult to offer a single response to this novel, partly because it’s so ambitious in its panoramic treatment of more than seventy years of history, and partly because of the shifts in tone and feeling throughout. The episodic structure offers an excellent way of emphasizing continuity across different decades and diverse settings, and the novel’s representation of the human impact of hatred and discrimination is often movingly portrayed.

In places this is a very, very funny book – the parts set in Ireland especially so – but this makes Boyne’s handling of the serious matter of prejudice and corruption tricky. Ultimately, I felt that the exaggerated depiction of the characters prevented me from engaging with them deeply and Cyril’s relentless self-obsession (though completely understandable) is also challenging. It makes many of the relationships unconvincing – how can Cyril and Julian be ‘best friends’ when Julian only enlists Cyril for a couple of illicit schoolboy adventures, and is abroad and out of communication for most of their adult lives?

The opening section of the book is vivid and affecting (and rage-inducing), and sets the scene for a larger engagement with marginalisation, linking female and homosexual experience. However, except for the wonderful Catherine Goggin (how I would love to meet her!), women are often trapped in stereotype – Cyril (in a weird burst of prurience) depicts Ignac’s girlfriend Emily, with her troublesomely visible breasts, as virtually a sexual predator, while Alice’s only reference point is an eternal obsession with her runaway bridegroom, even half a century later… The best thing about the novel is its absolute refusal to sentimentalise Ireland. Three cheers for that!


Karen D | 8 comments I absolutely loved this. I agree with that the 7 year jumps really worked for me, and especially with the story starting before Cyril was born. It was definitely hard to read at times, with the struggles that so many characters faced, basically making their circumstance illegal (unwed mothers, homosexuality). It frustrated me how Julian reacted to Cyril's announcement of who he was, that he said they were never truly friends if Cyril couldnt tell him the truth. Granted, he opened at the absolute worst possible time (and poor Alice, she REALLY had bad luck!) but he didn't understand at all what sort of legal issues Cyril faced if he had been honest. It was much more complicated than just talking to a friend.

I also agree about not sentimentalizing Ireland - I felt like you get a great sense about what Ireland truly was like, not the hyped up St Patty's day Irish. I also loved seeing so much of the world through Cyril's eyes, the various places he traveled and lived in.

I could keep going, I found the whole thing so incredibly interesting to read. It was an easy 5 stars in my opinion!


Doug Glad people are enjoying this for the most part ... I am sure it's going to make my top 5 for the year. And I just finished Boyne's previous book 'A History of Loneliness', which I read on the strength of this one - much, much different, but equally compelling. He has a new book coming out in June also (Ladder to the Sky) which I'm looking forward to ... as well as more of his backlist.

On the question of the Cyril-Julian relationship: it is almost a cliché in gay lit for the gay man to have an obsessive, unrequited love for an unobtainable str8 friend, but I thought Boyne totally nailed how that often progresses, even with long stretches of being apart.

Some of the characters lack complicity, it is true, but I think you have to forgive that in an essentially comic romp - I absolutely ADORED Maude & Charles Avery and their obtuseness was a large part of their...charm?


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2387 comments I agree with you Doug about Maude and Charles, who seemed totally clueless as to what was expected of parents, adoptive or otherwise. They did not seem in anyway to be mean spirited, just lacking the ability to appreciate what a child might need other than food and schooling.


message 11: by Lucy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lucy | 8 comments Doug wrote: "I absolutely ADORED Maude & Charles Avery and their obtuseness was a large part of their...charm?"

I loved the fact that Maud finally made it on to the tea towel! There are lots of good jabs at the writing 'industry' (short books are best?!)



message 12: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug I'd posted this on my review, but neglected to do so here - a terrific interview with the author: https://www.readitforward.com/author-...


message 13: by Hugh (last edited Apr 20, 2018 03:27AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2777 comments Mod
I have finished the book: My review.

I liked many aspects of it - it is an easy read and quite funny in places. I thought the central story about the harshness of the law in Ireland and its effects on the gay community and unmarried mothers were well handled. My reservations were mostly structural - for me there were just too many convenient coincidences, and I couldn't quite believe that the key events of anyone's life would fall into such a neat pattern, so I never quite lost sight of the author wielding his puppet strings.

My copy came with a little afterword from Boyne, in which he said the germ of the novel came from a comment he heard at the time of the referendum from an old man saying (I am paraphrasing because I don't have the book in front of me) that it was a great day but it had come 50 years too late for him, and that this line was better than anything he had ever written.


message 14: by Hugh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2777 comments Mod
Doug wrote: "it was actually the first Western nation to legalize same-sex marriage"
I don't think it was technically the first by any criterion, but there are plenty of more liberal countries that have not got there yet (they were behind England, Scotland and Wales but ahead of Northern Ireland).


message 15: by Hugh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2777 comments Mod
I have been looking through the friend reviews for this book and I don't think I have ever seen so many at 5 stars. This makes me feel a little churlish, as I came quite close to going for 3 rather than 4.

In structural terms (and in historical sweep and name dropping) it is a little reminiscent of William Boyd's Any Human Heart, which for me was another book that had brilliant moments but was less than the sum of its parts.


message 16: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 161 comments Karen wrote: "I absolutely loved this. I agree with that the 7 year jumps really worked for me, and especially with the story starting before Cyril was born. It was definitely hard to read at times, with the str..."

I loved this book also, and was glad to read your thoughts to remind me that we hear from Cyril from before he was born. This hooked me into wanting to know more. I would add to the sentiment about Cyril not opening up to Julian years before that in addition to legal issues, the shame of being gay and the fear of rejection had to play into that and much of Cyril's other behavior and self-obsession (that Lucy pointed out). In much of his early life he was trying to appear "normal" and not doing a very good job of it, hurting himself and others.


message 17: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 161 comments I really enjoyed this book and am glad it was chosen for a group read. I had it on my tbr for quite a while and I'm enjoying the different viewpoints our discussion, enriching my own thinking. For most of the book, I was thinking "5 stars for sure!", but a few of the coincidences felt contrived and designed just to create an intersection in Cyril's life. An example for me was when Bastiaan came home and told Cyril a straight Irish man had been admitted to the hospital with AIDS, I knew immediately it was Julian. While I liked how the story flowed from there, giving Cyril and Julian a way to open up to each other, it didn't ring true. But like Doug, I just decided to let go of the coincidence issue and flow with the book/Cyril's story. (I started to think of all the coincidences in my own life, so it was easy to stop being so picky!) I found the book laugh-out-loud funny with heart-stopping momentum and many tear-inducing scenes. Like Hugh, I could feel the pull of strings, but didn't care!

I like how this book shows the sweep of history through one person's story. I recently read another 5-star book that did the same, Fair and Tender Ladies which takes place from 1915 to the early '70's in Appalachia. I can think of a few other books that do this, something I've come to like.

Did anyone else listen to The Heart's Invisible Furies? It was an outstanding audiobook. I've heard the narrator before in a couple of Tana French's books.


message 18: by Doug (last edited Apr 16, 2018 10:33AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Hugh wrote: "Doug wrote: "it was actually the first Western nation to legalize same-sex marriage"
I don't think it was technically the first by any criterion, but there are plenty of more liberal countries that..."



Oops - I just took Boyne's word for that, since he mentioned it as an impetus for writing the book, but in doing some research, see that he was incorrect! :-( It gets tricky though, in deciding what constitutes 'marriage' as there are many instances of recognizing same-sex partnerships earlier, but those aren't technically 'marriage'.


message 19: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 161 comments Doug wrote: "Hugh wrote: "Doug wrote: "it was actually the first Western nation to legalize same-sex marriage"
I don't think it was technically the first by any criterion, but there are plenty of more liberal c..."


I'm wondering if there's a clue about "the first country" in this quote from the interview you shared, Doug. . . . within 25 years we were set to become the first country in the world to vote by public plebiscite for same-sex marriage. Perhaps, Ireland was the first country to vote for same-sex marriage rather than legislate it. And thanks for posting the interview in the discussion thread.


message 20: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Suzy wrote: "Doug wrote: "Hugh wrote: "Doug wrote: "it was actually the first Western nation to legalize same-sex marriage"
I don't think it was technically the first by any criterion, but there are plenty of m..."


Ah, thank you - that might indeed explain the discrepancy! Eagle eye you've got there!! :-)


message 21: by Hugh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2777 comments Mod
Yes, I think Suzy is right.


message 22: by Lily (last edited Apr 17, 2018 06:12AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments I'm reading this slowly, as I often do when I have several going concurrently. The contrast with Coetzee in terms of cool, intellectual detachment versus rollicking storytelling couldn't be much greater. Yet both touch the great issues of identity and how it is or is not nourished in families, in society.

Although I am not much of a television watcher, I find Boyne reminds me of "Saturday Night Live," with its broadside humor and sometimes satire. I've said already I'm reminded of Fielding's Tom Jones and of Dickens's orphans, foster parents, judicial and slum settings,... I find myself wishing I had read Tom Jones more recently. Also, are the ghosts of Tristan Shandy (Sterne) and Jonathan Swift lurking here?

I am intrigued by Boyne's character creation. They seem memorable, even really minor ones often have a poignant point to make (like the three brothers in the Education office), yet they may abruptly become dispensable after Boyne has made use of them for the story points he wants to convey. Sometimes dispensable in most implausible scenarios, like two-for-one in the fall of Nelson's Pillar, let alone a confession booth!


message 23: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments @1Doug wrote: "My review is here (it contains no major spoilers, but you might prefer to read it after you have finished the book yourselves):

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....."


The link in your post did not work for me this morning, Doug.


message 25: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments Hugh wrote: "Lily,

Try this one:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show..."


Thx, Hugh. That worked.


message 26: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 161 comments Hi all - I finished this last weekend and it took me forever to write my review! If I shared everything I thought about it, my review might have been as long as the book. So much to connect with in thought and feelings. I said in my review that one way I connected with this book is that I am about the age of Cyril and have lived through the events and changes that have taken place in those seven decades. While not in Ireland, it was easy to picture and feel those events/changes.

I also wanted to share a stellar review from one of my GR friends, Will Byrnes. I always eagerly await reading his reviews once I've finished a book and his review of The Heart's did not disappoint. He always includes additional resources, interviews with the author and such. Enjoy! https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 27: by Lily (last edited Apr 19, 2018 07:14AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments Suzy wrote: "Hi all - I finished this last weekend and it took me forever to write my review! If I shared everything I thought about it, my review might have been as long as the book. So much to connect with in..."

Suzy -- Thanks for the link to Byrne's review!

How about a link to yours?


message 28: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 161 comments Lily wrote: "Suzy wrote: "Hi all - I finished this last weekend and it took me forever to write my review! If I shared everything I thought about it, my review might have been as long as the book. So much to co..."

Glad to oblige, Lily. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Are you still in process? :)


message 29: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2503 comments Suzy wrote: "Are you still in process? :) ..."

Yes! Other demands, reading and otherwise, have interfered, and probably will continue to do so for the next couple of weeks! Thx for asking....


message 30: by Kay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kay | 73 comments Well, I loved this book. Like Hugh, I thought the coincidences a bit unrealistic, but did not care at all. Not being Irish, I had to look some things up but that only added to my enjoyment of the story. It has been a long time since a book has made me both laugh out loud and tear up at the same time, so thank you, Doug, for nominating it. I will definitely be looking into Boyne's other works.


message 31: by Donna (last edited Apr 30, 2018 01:05AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Donna (drspoon) | 6 comments At first I didn't know what to make of this novel. Cyril's adoptive parents were so emotionally distant that regular slaps would have seemed more humane. Some of the scenes in the book bordered on farcical. And the people in Cyril’s life kept popping up a little too coincidentally. But I read the almost 600 pages at a full gallop and was never bored once. There simply isn’t a more entertaining story teller than an Irish writer and Boyne is at the top of his game in this one. And so, in the end, I decided simply to let go and love it.


message 32: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug A belated thank you to all who participated in our April group read - I found all of your comments interesting and enlightening, and I am pleased most of you loved the book as much as I did (or at least LIKED it!) Until next time ....


message 33: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 161 comments Thanks, Doug! I loved the book and loved the conversation!


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