When the hype is warranted

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Well I wasn’t super kind to the last book I posted about. To balance the scales, so to speak, today I’m going to talk about a book that I completely and totally loved: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne.

The first time I read a book by John Boyne, I felt a lot of things. A History of Loneliness made me angry and sad and I wanted to scream. I followed that up with The Boy at the Top of the Mountain which I also loved. Less screaming into the void, but no less moved.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies though. I was completely invested. For a nearly-600 page book, it too me no time to rip through it. And that’s without taking the bus to and from work!


The book begins with the story of Cyril Avery’s mother; Catherine is 16 when she is shamed in front of her entire community in Ireland because she is pregnant. The person who got her pregnant isn’t shamed, and the priest doing the shaming has been up to far worse. But that’s Ireland in 1945. Her entire family looks away as she is thrown out of the parish. She takes the bus to Dublin where she has a plan for the rest of her life.

We meet Cyril when he is a fairly precocious 7 year old, adopted by a couple who insist he’s “not a real Avery” and leave him mostly to his own devices. The day he meets Julian, the son of the lawyer tasked with getting Cyril’s adoptive father off on some fraud related charges, is the day that he falls in love.

Over the course of the novel, we check in with Cyril every seven years. We are with him at boarding school when he and Julian are roommates and best friends, Julian intent on sleeping with girls, Cyril on being around Julian. We check in with Cyril as he begins work in the civil service, going out in the small hours of the morning to hook up with strange men in bathroom stalls and alleys. We see Cyril on his wedding day when he is desperate to have made different decisions and almost can’t stand to live another day; when he moves to Amsterdam, and then New York before being back in Ireland again. We are with him as he finds a different version of the family he knows he can never have, as he comes to terms with the truth about himself. We see Cyril as a child, a teenager, a young man, a middle aged one and even a very old one, haunted by those who have gone before. And at every stage, he has some kind of run-in with Catherine, the woman who gave him up at 16.

It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve been so invested in a book. Since I’ve found one that makes me ignore everything else going on to spend time wrapped up in its pages. I loved Cyril Avery, his unique way of seeing the world, the way that, even with so many people around him, he was essentially alone.

Reading The Heart’s Invisible Furies is like reading about the birth of a modern Ireland as well. Boyne’s latest novel is peppered with priests and traditional women and civil servants who would have Ireland stay as it is, where women have to quit their jobs as soon as they get married and homosexuality is very much illegal. In much the way A History of Loneliness focused on the church’s role in shaping Ireland, The Heart’s Invisible Furies doesn’t shy away from taking to task those institutions and people who would trap individuals in prisons not of their own making.

This book seemed like it came out of nowhere and suddenly it was everywhere. I personally believe that the hype is completely warranted.

I finished this book in a daze, momentarily confused about where I was, bewildered that my journey alongside Cyril was over. I’ve already loaned my copy out to a friend in the hopes that she will fall in love with this book as I did. If you get the chance to read it, I hope you do.


The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Reading John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness was like a revelation. It was excruciating and exquisite and so, so powerful.

When given the chance to read his latest, The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, I was all over it.

boy mtnIn 1936 Paris, Pierrot lives with his French mother and German father. His father is shattered by his experiences in the First World War and as the mood towards Germans shift, he starts to drink more and more. Pierrot’s best friend is a deaf Jewish boy who lives downstairs. When Pierrot is left an orphan, he ends up in the care of his father’s sister, Beatrix, who he has never met. He has to leave behind everything he knows: his school, his home, his best friend, his dog.

Beatrix works as a housekeeper at the Berghof, Hitler’s alpine retreat. Eight year old Pierrot becomes Pieter as he falls in thrall to Hitler, the Fuhrer taking a shine to the young man. As he grows up at the Berghof and as the war hurtles forward towards it’s horrific apex, Pieter must decide where his loyalties lie.

This book was so good. It’s only 215 pages – I think it’s actually meant as a children’s book – but it is such a perfectly crafted little story. I loved this idea of a child under the care of Hitler (ok, loved is maybe the wrong word. I loved it as a plot device. As an actual thing, it’s obviously terrifying), away from the actual consequences of actions. Boyne does an incredible job of illustrating the climate of the time, how easy it was to get caught up in the furor over the Fuhrer.

And the end! The end was masterful. Oh, I was delighted by the end.

What Boyne has done here, create a story about an incredibly dark period in human history that is suitable for children and adults, is no small feat.


A History of Loneliness

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne was one of the more difficult books I’ve read in recent memory. It made me sick, angry, and incredibly sad. Sometimes all at once.


Odran Yates is a Catholic priest. He’s been moved from the school where he was happily looking after the library and feigning an interest in rugby for the boys, to the parish of his old friend Tom Cardle. He misses his school and looks back over his life to try and figure out how he ended up here. We go back to the week at the beach in Wexford with his family that had such tragic consequences; the day his parish priest came to talk to him about inappropriate conduct with the neighbour girl; his time in Rome for his final year of seminary and how it all kind of came undone. Tom and he were roommates at seminary and through the years they continue their friendship, even though Odran finds it odd that Tom keeps getting moved; Tom comes to say the mass when Odran’s mother passes away, stays with the family for the night and afterwards Odran’s nephew Aidan seems different somehow; Odran stays with Tom and his housekeeper keeps trying to insist that he stay with Tom while he goes about parish business.

I’m a lapsed Catholic. I grew up in the Church, went to Catholic school, Sunday mass, dreaded the years where Christmas fell on a Wednesday since it meant I’d have to go to mass every three days for two weeks. I liked the rituals, the marking of time by the liturgical seasons. But then some things came up with the Church that I had a hard time swallowing and I stopped going to mass as regularly. I became a Christmas and Easter person for a while until I stopped altogether.

A History of Loneliness was at once completely familiar and totally unrecognizeable. It evokes a time and place, an Ireland whose life revolves completely around the Church. Priests are deferred to in all, mothers bringing their wayward sons to the local priest to have them guide their boys towards adulthood. Young men told that they had a vocation in the Church, sent to seminary at the age of 17, sometimes completely against their will. Modern day Odran struggles against the new reality of the Church in Ireland, people that are angry at and suspicious of the priesthood, ensuring that their children are supervised at all times, looking for the Church to be held accountable for the untold damage that has been done. Eventually Odran has to confront what happened which is when I broke down reading it.

This book is the definition of the Edmund Burke quote “All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.” Even though Odran himself has never done anything other than the work that his mother told him was his vocation, he’s had to have thought over the years that something wasn’t right. Even when he’s confronted with the truth, Odran still can’t believe that this was covered up, that it went all the way to the top, that the Pope knew and did nothing. He realizes that he’s been a kind of accessory, has hidden himself away in the library, behind his books, pretending like bad things haven’t been happening.

Boyne pulls no punches. He calls out Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI for knowing about the abuse suffered by boys at the hands of their priests and doing nothing. For hiding behind the power of their office, their infallibility as the head of the Church, and moving the problem to other parishes. It’s a fictional book but you know that it has it’s roots firmly planted in truth.

This is a book that will stay with me for a long time – I think I’m still working through my feelings about it. It is an exquisitely rendered story based on excruciatingly difficult subject matter. I’m not sure that I’m doing this book any justice. Just know that it is something else.