John Boyne: The Heart’s Invisible Furies


‘Yes, it’s true,’ he continued, ‘that there are homosexuals all over the world. England has lots of them. France is full of them. And I’ve never been to America but I imagine they have more than their share too. I wouldn’t think it’s all that common in Russia or Australia, but they probably have some other repulsive thing to compensate. But here’s what you have got to remember. There are no homosexuals in Ireland. You might have got it into your head that you are one but you’re just wrong. It’s as simple as that. You’re wrong.’

‘It doesn’t feel as simple as that, Doctor,’ I said carefully. ‘I really think that I might be.’

‘But were you not listening to me?’ he asked, smiling at me as if I were a complete ignoramus. ‘Amn’t I after telling you that there are no homosexuals in Ireland? And if there are no homosexuals in Ireland, how on earth could you be one?’ (219)

This is Cyril’s second attempt to get help for what he desperately wants to overcome, his attraction to other men.  The first, when he was fourteen, resulted rather unfortunately in the death by apoplexy of the 80-year-old priest to whom he confessed his secret fantasies.

John Boyne is committed to the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction school, and there are plenty of scandalously funny examples, including the fortuitous collapse of a statue of Lord Nelson that kills both the Garda who was arresting Cyril for indecent behaviour and Cyril’s horrible ‘girlfriend’ Mary-Margaret Muffet.

I knew one thing for sure: that this was the end of it. There would be no more men, no more boys. It would be just women from now on. I would be like everyone else.

I would be normal if it killed me.  247.

Of course, he isn’t. Funny as the book is, its bedrock is the harshness and hypocrisy of Irish attitudes to sexuality, marriage and divorce, and the terrible years of the full-blown AIDS crisis with all the violence and hatred that went along with it. For all that, it’s a generous, uplifting book. Hannah Arendt said of Auden that life had manifested the heart’s invisible furies on his face. A great title for a book that makes those invisible furies so real and so understandable to those of us who haven’t suffered from the same injustices.


3 thoughts on “John Boyne: The Heart’s Invisible Furies

  1. A couple of people I know read this with their book group and were very impressed with it. Clearly a writer who knows how to bring these issues alive in a highly compelling way.

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