Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
This may be my favorite book now. I rarely give anything five stars, because to me that means the book was perfect. Even though I read a lot, I am rarely so thoroughly engrossed in the world of the character and able to feel as they do. I found myself thinking about this book while at work, and wondering how Cyril was doing.
Book Synopsis: Cyril is born to an unwed mother in 1945 in Ireland. He is given up for adoption, so that his mother can carry on with a relatively normal life, without having the shame of being an unwed mother, or having to support a son as she is starting out in the world, at 16.
In the next section, we hear from Cyril, and he is seven years old. Cyril has been adopted by the Averys, who are pretty hands off in their parenting. They are forever correcting him when he refers to them as mother and father, insisting they call him his adoptive mother, and adoptive father. It is here at age 7, that Cyril first meets Julian, who will play a major role in his life. It is also here, that we as readers, get the first inkling of an idea that Cyril may be gay. Cyril himself doesn’t know, mostly because he is seven, and doesn’t really know much about attraction at that age. As the book goes on, and as Cyril grows up, he begins to realize that he is gay. At age 14, when he meets Julian again, he falls in love with him, and comes to the realization that this is who he is. However, in Ireland in the 1960s, this is a source of major turmoil in Cyril’s life. He keeps these feelings a secret from Julian, who is a serial dater, but very interested in girls.
He doesn’t seem to feel that being attracted to men is wrong, but knows that if he is caught he could be sent to prison, or worse. Homosexuality is treated like a dirty disease, and those who have it are called perverts and are cast out from society. As as result, Cyril is forced to remain in the closet, lest he be found out and sent to prison. To avoid suspicion, he begins dating a girl who isn’t interested in physical contact, which suits Cyril just fine. But Cyril is feels guilty over the fact that he’s lying to her, and that he’s doing it to save himself from suspicion. He still has sex with men, but he’s always forced to do it in secret, in the woods, or a bathroom, never knowing the other person’s name, and never able to have an actual relationship with anyone because it is too dangerous. The books follows Cyril’s life as the world becomes more progressive, but Ireland clings to its old catholic roots, not even allowing divorce until the 1990s. Cyril searches for a way he can be true to himself without being shunned by society.
Each subsequent section of the book takes place seven years after the prior section. Despite the large gaps in the years, I never felt like I didn’t have an understanding of Cyril’s life. Some of the choices Cyril makes are clearly not, from an outsider’s point of view, sound. But, I understood every choice he made and how he felt, despite my lack of shared personal experiences with Cyril. Many of the characters Cyril interacts with early on find their way back into his life at one point or another, and I found it incredibly realistic how they relationships were portrayed. I never felt like the author was making something happen, rather that the author was the vessel for this story, and that to me is the best kind of book; one where the presence of the author is not felt.