Wow. John Boyne ripped my heart from my chest, put it back, ripped it out again, put it back….over and over. The story of Cyril Avery’s life, beginning with his birth mother’s exile from her small Irish town and journey to Dublin, is told in a beautiful way that somehow also manages to shed light on the hypocrisy and cruelty of Irish politics during the 20th century. As the reader travels through Cyril’s life, his journey to accepting his own sexuality, and the people who shaped his legacy, it’s impossible not to become completely invested in him. And although the book seems daunting at 592 pages, I finished it in just over two days and four sittings. The pace is much quicker than others of this length, and I found myself nearly unable to put it down at all. The dark humor in the book was unexpected, but is one of the many reasons I absolutely LOVED this book.
That being said, however, I do admit that the second half of the book is what made me fall head over heels in love with it. The first half, which focused on Cyril’s life into early adulthood and his relationship with his best friend Julian, felt as though it focused entirely too much on sex, and at times, it seemed a little overdone to me. However, when taken in context with the rest of the book and the status of Irish attitudes toward sex (especially same sex relationships) during that time, it ended up being understandable. The irony that becomes apparent by the end of the novel helped reconcile the earlier focus.
Give this book a shot. I promise that it’s worth it.