This is quite a simple book to read. There is no unreliable narrator to worry about. Time behaves predictably in a linear fashion and begins in 1945 with Mrs Goggins and ends with Mrs Goggins in a ‘New Ireland’ in 2015 getting married for the first time. In between the reader follows Cyril Avery’s life in seven year chunks for 588 pages that takes him into exile in Amsterdam and later New York. Ah, you might think, how can Mrs Goggins be Mrs Goggins without being married? Well, she’s a liar. There’s a lot of liars in Ireland. They are only outnumbered by hypocrites as the reader sees from the ‘The Good People of Goleen in 1945.’
Catherine Goggins, a pregnant girl of sixteen, shamed and rejected by her family and denounced from the pulpit as whore by Father James Monroe. Mrs Goggins later admitted to her narrator son, the parish priest was so enraged he would have liked to have kicked her to death. Father James Monroe who really was a father, having fathered two children by two different women in Drimoleague and Clonakilty, but he wasn’t a whore, being male, but a good man that gave in to temptation. Piety hides many sins. Cyril Avery is a liar too.
Part 1 of the book, which takes the reader up until 1973 in which he, inexplicably marries his best friend’s sister, Alice but runs away after the wedding is the dramatic low point, or high point, depending on your position of his Shame. Shame + Disgrace = Exile (Part 2) because Cyril’s great love was not Alice but Julian, her brother.
John Boyne has fun with the characters of Charles and Maude Avery. Cyril is reminded by both adopted parents he’s not a real Avery, they more or less purchased him from a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun in the same way they’d buy a matching dinners set. When the reader first meets Charles and Maude and Cyril meets his first great love Julian, his adoptive father is involved in some tiresome business of stealing money and not paying his taxes. He’s even had to hire a solicitor, Max Woodhead, Julian’s father. Charles, of course, screws it up, by screwing Woodhead’s wife. She was a beautiful woman after all and he was an Avery.
Maude Avery was an author with a select audience. She is furious that her husband’s infamy and publicity from his trial had pushed her books into the bestseller’s charts. ‘The Vulgarity of Popularity’ is not for her. Worse was to follow, Maude Avery was to become one of Ireland’s greatest writers, her visage being reproduced on a tea-towel, with luminaries such as Yeats. My guess is Maude Avery was loosely based on the aristocratic English writer Daphne du Maurier. Come to think of it her husband was similar in some way to Charles Avery.
I enjoyed this book. Sometime we get too bogged down in detail to state the obvious. I read it in about three days. Cyril’s adopted ‘son’ Ignac, is Slovenian, but they meet in Amsterdam. He also becomes a successful author. That wearies me. There seems to be more successful authors in Ireland than homosexuals.
And there was a set piece at the hospital in Dublin when Liam, Cyril’s biological son’s wife is in labour with their second child and Cyril and Alice go along to the maternity ward and meet the pregnant –soon to be delivered —mum’s mum, Ruth and dad, Peter. There’s a bit of confusion about who’s who. Cyril is mistaken for another Cyril that is heterosexual and not one of them homosexuals. Ruth and Peter have nothing against them you understand. You know how it goes. Ruth and Peter have a big family of seven (I lost count) and not one of them homosexual. But their Joseph, although in his thirties, hasn’t settled yet, stays with his flatmate and makes ‘a lovely roast potato’.
The kind of euphemism that’s to be avoided. I’m sure John Boyne is telling a true story here. But because it’s true doesn’t mean it rings true – if you know what I mean? Life’s like that. Read on.