I’d waited to read this one. You need time with a John Boyne. To savour the words, the world. Cyril Avery finding himself, after being born out of wedlock, then adopted by the Averys, who never made Cyril feel welcome - he wasn't a 'real' Avery after all, and then navigating his way through an Ireland, mostly from a small town called Skull, in a world that didn't really count him as a real human being either held promise of being a place I could safely and happily withdraw to. Here's how it started.
"Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore."
I loved being inside Cyril’s head. I loved seeing from his point of view. The hostility from outside was tangible. The deeply painful historical account of the church's failure to embrace who he was, mirrored by Ireland's stance on gay boys and men was evocative, emotional and heart-rending, without being (too) judgemental.
“It was a difficult time to be Irish, a difficult time to be twenty-one years of age and a difficult time to be a man who was attracted to other men. To be all three simultaneously required a level of subterfuge and guile that felt contrary to my nature.”
Much has been written about this book - mostly rave reviews - and it is an epic. The wry dry humour pervading the witty and realistic dialogue was a perfect counterpoint to the sad place Cyril inhabited.
“If there is one thing I've learned in more than seven decades of life, it's that the world is a completely fucked-up place. You never know what's around the corner and it's often something unpleasant.”
There were moments of joy, beauty and connection too, which also lightened the mood. In entirety it may have been a little drawn out though. And that together with the sadness and the sorrow made it a slight drudge. It wasn't exactly missing the essential tension that abounds in A History of Loneliness, but maybe less concentrated - the prejudice and violence less contained in a world than in a boys' dormitory.
It does feel like Mr. Boyne has found a fine voice, and I guess we can look forward to more writing from him that is full throttled angst, as he writes his fears, his pain and his hopes and dreams. How lucky are we?
You may also enjoy A History of Loneliness by John Boyne, or what about John Irving's Avenue of Mysteries?
Here's another good one - The Nix by Nathan Hill.
Some more great books.