Catherine, Cyril’s Mother, is sixteen and pregnant with him as the novel opens. She is called up to the alter by the priest. Catherine has committed the despicable crime of falling pregnant out of wedlock. The priest then informs her and the congregation that she must name the father of the child so he can repent his sins and be forgiven. However, for Catherine, there is no such offer, no chance of forgiveness or redemption. Catherine and her unborn child are banished from the village never able to return. Catherine leaves the small village of Goleen, telling the ticket seller at the bus depot she won’t be returning, and heads for Dublin and a new life.
Catherine knows that the best possible chance she can give her son in life is to give him to the nuns and he is adopted by a couple who while providing a roof over his head, show him no love at all. Cyril, we find out is named after the couple’s favourite pet spaniel. He is told right from the start that he is not their real son. His father tells him that he will not inherit anything and he takes great pleasure in constantly reminding Cyril that he is not a “real Avery”. His adoptive mother, Maude, is an author on the brink of becoming famous and popular, which ironically, is the very thing that she fears and loathes. Maude also shows no signs of love towards Cyril, but then Maude does not show signs of love to anybody.
So begins Cyril’s epic life. He quickly realises he is gay and that he is living in a country and era where being gay is not only dangerous, it can be fatal. Ireland, while not in name is very much a theocracy with the Catholic Church wielding all the power at this point in history, and homosexuality is one of the worst crimes. Cyril is forced to live a lie, not able to live his life in the open. To make matters worse he is absolutely head over heels in lust and love for his best friend Julian who does not even know that Cyril is gay.
This is only the second Boyne novel I have read, but once again he throws historical figures into the narrative and uses them to great effect. The narrative covers virtually Cyril’s entire life and as Cyril ages we see the slow transformation of Ireland and the shifting of power from the church, to the elected government. This book is truly an epic masterpiece. It can change from dark and impossibly depressing to hysterically funny in the space of a page. The way that Boyne joins the characters narratives together like lengths of woollen string rolled into a skein is genius. When you get to the end of the novel it feels live a puzzle, and the epilogue is the final piece that clicks it all into place.
Boyne seems to aim both barrels, bitterness and anger, at the hypocrisy and degeneracy of the Church. We find out later in the book that the priest who banished Catherine has fathered two children even though he has taken a vow of chastity. This is not me having a go at the Church, this is the impression, I received from the tone of his writing.
Masterful writing, amazing rich characters which clutch at your heart, and a brilliant narrative make this one of the best books I have read in a long time. 5 Stars!!!
This is the third Boyne novel I have read and although I enjoyed both of the others tremendously, this novel is a masterpiece. There is a very short video of Boyne talking about this novel here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vnk2hC9Q__Q