Entertainment Books

Monday 21 October 2019

Game-changing story of a gay man's struggles in a fickle Irish society

Book that changed my life - Brian Kennedy

  • Fiction: The Heart's Invisible Furies, John Boyne, Hogarth Press, €12.60
The Heart's Invisible Furies
The Heart's Invisible Furies

Jonathan DeBurca Butler

I grew up in a house on the Falls Road in Belfast. It was a very working-class family, not much money going around and as a result there weren't that many books lying around either.

So if you needed a book you might go to the library. But even then you were taking your life into your hands because there were riots everywhere. Things like walking half-a-mile to the library were never straightforward.

I really loved reading what I could, The Famous Five and all that. But I really got into reading when I moved to London, and started reading books by gay authors; Oscar Wilde, of course, and then stuff like A Boy's Own Story by Edmund White and so on. I suppose I was trying to find my tribe as it were and part of that was through literature. In London there was a freer head space to do that I think.

Years later, and up until recently in fact, I was on the panel of Pat Kenny's Easons Book Club on Newstalk. The great thing about the book club, was that I read things I never would have dreamed of reading. It really introduced me to different types of literature. And as part of that there was a book that I read recently which was The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne. It's a book that I really loved and the one that stands out in terms of this question of a book that, maybe didn't change my life as such, but certainly made a huge impression on me.

I had read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and a book of short stories by him, so he was on my radar and every time I read something I'd say to myself 'God, that's really impressive writing'.

When I read it, it really changed my view of the world as writing should do and it changed the way that I might think about writing myself. I have written two novels, so it's great to see how another author works and his view of the world. This novel examines how fragile people are and how people overcome really challenging childhoods; something I could really relate to growing up gay on the Falls Road.

The Heart's Invisible Furies starts in 1940s Ireland and works its way to the present day. It tells the story of Cyril Avery who, having been given up by his teenage mother, is adopted by a well-off Dublin couple. The book examines friendship, fortune and the struggles of growing up gay in a society that detests homosexuality or maybe even denies its very existence.

I just love where he went with this book and examined issues around how fickle people are, how money-motivated people are and how ultimately that leads to great loneliness.

I think John Boyne really has a way of telling stories that maybe changes how you look at the world.

I remember when I read it it was really hard to put down. It was one of those books where you were, 'God, what's going to happen next?', and suddenly it's three o'clock in the morning.

After I read it, I heard him read from it at the Edinburgh Book Festival which gave me another take on it. That's another thing, he is a brilliant reader too. I find him a really inspiring person.


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