I love the idea of taking part in the challenges that crop up but never seem to get my timing right. I read this for the Reading Ireland challenge in March but as usual find myself a few weeks behind, still, it got me to pick this up from the pile on the box at the end of my bed and I’m glad I did because it was really good!
In 1945 16 year old Catherine Goggin is thrown out of her village in West Cork one Sunday morning during mass while her family watch from the second pew. She takes the late afternoon bus to Dublin, and meets Seán MacIntyre and Jack Smoot. The three share a dingy flat together while Catherine makes plans for her future. She entrusts the baby to ‘a little hunchbacked Redemptorist nun’ to find a family with whom he’ll have a better life, and so begins Cyril’s story as he tries to negotiate life and find out who he is.
Although he can never be a real Avery, as Maude and Charles keep telling him, he has a cordial and business like relationship with his adoptive parents in a large house in Dartmouth Square. Maude becomes a very successful novelist although she despises the vulgarity of popularity and Charles is a womanising banker, through them Cyril meets Julian Woodbead, who will be his friend forever, but who even as a child exudes the glamorous ease that Cyril can’t even hope to emulate.
Cyril’s a gentle soul, but makes some ridiculous decisions that at times made me want to throttle him but as his story develops and he travels from Ireland to Amsterdam to New York and back again, the question I really wanted answered was, when are you going to make the connection with Catherine? Sometimes they actually meet and sometimes their stories bump into each other but when are they going to realise who they are? We know it’s going to happen from the very beginning because he’s our narrator! And this is what this book did so well, because whilst it maintained a sense of humour that was sometimes farcical it also managed to cover topics such as unwanted children, AIDS and child prostitution without losing any of the heartbreaking tragedy .
That Cyril is gay is at the heart of the novel and his finding his way in the world is tied closely to Ireland’s acceptance of homosexuality. The novel ends in 2015 the year of the marriage equality referendum and although this brings a bittersweetness when Cyril wishes he was young again and ‘able to experience such unashamed honesty’ it’s at long last a time of family and happiness.