I don’t know where to start. Ostensibly this is the story of one man’s life, a very ordinary man in many ways but as we all are, also very extraordinary. Cyril Avery is the son of Catherine, a country girl, cast out of her family and the church, literally thrown out by the hair on her head, by a ghastly priest. She is young, pregnant and penniless. She makes her way to Dublin, has her baby who is adopted by the Averys and bought up in a most unusual fashion. The book follows his life, Cyril is a gay man and his experiences through his early life, school and his first work experiences are at times horrific and at times really funny. This book also, via Cyril’s life, follows the history of the Catholic church in Ireland in the 20th century. Homosexuals were treated so incredibly appallingly, not just in Ireland I know, but in this case, we are talking about Ireland and any other country where the church runs the state and that is very clearly what was happening there.
I found so much depth in this novel, layer upon layer of story. It loops around, people crop up in various places over time, Cyril’s people appear and disappear and then reappear in his life, but that really is what happens to people generally, you have a friend, you see them a lot, then not so much and then you find each other again. The novel travels to Amsterdam, on to New York and then carries you back to Ireland.
This is a big book, not just because the story is so big and twisty turny good, Cyril’s is a big life but also a quiet life. I fell completely in love with this novel. It does move slowly and carefully but like all of John Boyne’s novels the satisfaction of reading such gorgeous writing of finding so many treasures of little stories within the massive story – well it just makes me almost go weepy! And, if like I did, you attend a Catholic funeral while you are reading this book, you will just look at all the rituals and wonder and weep that these lovely ceremonies come with a history of bigotry and injustice, and that will be very challenging for some readers. I hope it sells millions of copies!