Actual score 4.5
I enjoyed this book. It is a very interesting study about how society's mores and values can leave you feeling disempowered and with few life choices, while at the same time showing how it is still important to show care when making the life choices that are left to you. Catholic Ireland was an excellent setting for this story about a gay man's life. Even though it showed how homophobic Ireland was in the 40s, 50s, 60s etc (there probably still are pockets of it today), Boyne never used this to completely rob Cyril of his agency. In this way Cyril still had to learn to take responsibility for his life and his choices, just as other characters had to take responsibility for theirs.
I think it was clever of Boyne to pick key points every seven years in Cyril's life to focus on. In this way the reader can get a sense of the trajectory of his life without it turning into some great big fat stodgy intergenerational tome. It was simply a story about Cyril's life, the life of his friends and of Ireland. By the end of the novel I had a real sense of the trajectory of Cyril's life in that even though he was born into a society that didn't accept him as he was, it couldn't hold him down and it couldn't stop him from thriving, which he did in spite of some of his choices, and because of others.
I have to admit, that I was trying to read a property law text book at the same time, so I probably didn't really do the novel justice in my reading. But I still enjoyed it. The writing is lovely and emotional without being over the top, histrionic and trying to make you cry at every turn. I always felt a real sense of compassion for Cyril, even when he was unwittingly blundering head first into a terrible mistake. I think I really connected with the story in the late 1980s where Cyril was volunteering in a ward with AIDS patients. I was working as an ambulance officer then, in the 1980s, and many of the bigoted and uncaring attitudes of people towards those with this illness appalled me then.
I heartily recommend this to anyone who wants to read a story about how life can thrive in spite of bigotry and intolerance.