Boyne’s sombre 2014 novel A History of Loneliness anatomised such corruption and abuse, and he returns to track these seismic changes in Irish society with a broader, bawdier and more comedic sweep of narrative in The Heart’s Invisible Furies. Historical figures mingle with fictional ones, words are put into mouths, gossip simmers and reputations shudder crazily ... The narrative energy flags somewhat as Cyril’s story approaches the present day. Boyne’s fictional portrait of postwar Ireland and its people is nightmarish but utterly compelling. While the 21st century may be a much better place to live, it doesn’t seem to charge Boyne’s imagination with the same force. The Irish people vote in favour of gay marriage in a referendum. Some of the ghosts of the past are appeased, but it is the sorrows of those ghosts that dominate the novel and cannot be woven into a fabric of restitution or hope. Boyne’s enraged vision is his great strength in The Heart’s Invisible Furies. The appalling comedy of Cyril’s childhood and youth, the vigour, the mess, the stir and life and horror of it all form the heart of a substantial achievement.
Cyril, who narrates the book, is wry, observant and funny, and it is his voice that gets us through what are sometimes horrific events. The book’s main theme is the Catholic church — its hypocrisy and its power over people’s lives in post-World War II Ireland. That Boyne tackles such a serious issue with great storytelling and humor is to his immense credit; much of the book is very, very funny. And much of it is tragic ... After Cyril emigrates, about midway through the novel, the tone shifts. The book becomes more serious, a bit didactic, and some conversations and situations seem less integral to the story and exist more as examples of social wrongs and individual cluelessness ... Despite these missteps, the book never really flags, and Cyril’s intelligent, witty voice takes us all the way through to the end of his life. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a brilliant, moving history of an Irishman, and of modern Ireland itself.
There are two major achievements in the book: With intricate narrative precision, The Heart’s Invisible Furies cuts to the heart of what family is, how it is chosen, and how it endures. And it is charming and funny, even as it dives down from the precipice of endearing humor into the very specific ironies and cruelties of real life ... His characters are cinematically rendered, with a deft, decadent wit that will make you laugh aloud at least once. Searing heartbreak; loneliness; a quest for internal and external redemption, solace, and contentment are all there in The Heart’s Invisible Furies ... It is the most affecting, beautiful, and memorable novel I have read in some time, transporting me into worlds as dreadful as some are delightful.