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mercredi 12 septembre 2012


Many of you will have heard of the book written by John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Maybe you have even read it, but I hope you did not just watch the (poor) film that was made of it, for it does not do much for the book itself, which is just stunning.

The fable, though meant for a young audience, ends in a frightening way, but is riveting to adults, too, for its author certainly knows how to tell a story.

John Boyne also writes adult fiction, and the book by him called The Absolutist gripped my attention from page one, as it opens with the description of a meeting on a train between the hero and a lady who boasts about the murders she has committed – she turns out to be a writer!
From then on, the narrative holds you spellbound. The whole book, written in the first person, is very cleverly wrought, as it follows the trail of the hero’s recollections and movements and ends in the kind of unexpected way that makes you scream out, as the last chapter draws to a close: ‘But of course!’

It is also the kind of book that lingers on long after you have finished it, for it touches everything that is human in you.
Obviously, the author is fascinated by what happens in times of crisis, and what is more representative of a crisis than a war?

This novel takes place during and after WW1. It deals with the recollections of a young British soldier who enlisted, even though he was not yet of age, because something happened to him: something so horrible in the eyes of society that his own parents rejected him, never wanting to see him again. And then, as he is trained before being sent over to France, something of the same kind happens to him again. When the war ends, he sets out to deliver, first a bundle of letters to a young woman in an unfamiliar city, and maybe, also, the tale of the terrible secret he carries with him.

What makes this novel moving is the sensitive way in which John Boyne deals with a delicate subject, without ever being blunt about it. He takes us through the maze of the trenches, through the emotions of the recruits, through the hardships of men who are about to go insane with fear and shock. But he does so in the manner of an impressionist painter. Despite the rough subject, not one stroke is too heavy on the canvas, or if it is, the next one is bound to soften it. Some reviewers may well have considered the Absolutist to be “an easy read” – to me, that is a compliment: you never see the stitches, yet the material is perfectly put together.

The result? I was both touched and awe-stricken by that book, as I am sure most readers must be. It will no doubt be translated into French, my native language, and I am positive it will meet a large audience in this country too. It certainly deserves to. This is a book that makes another writer green with envy. How on earth can an author manage so effectively to repeatedly convey the deepest feelings of his characters? John Boyne is a true creator, and an absolute wizard.

I have to say something else about the read: It is one of the first novels I have read in its e-version. (Though not on a kindle!)
To those who say that the impact is not the same, I shall answer that, for me, there was no difference. I turned those e-pages as eagerly as I would have a paperback’s – and the comfort on my eyes was certainly a plus!

For more information, see here

 It may well be announced as a children’s book, but with John Boyne we know better!

3 commentaires:

  1. While this may be a fictional tale it has been developed from strong foundations based on fact. In the summer of 1914 the rush to join the Armed Forces in Britain and Ireland was seen as a great adventure and one way to get away from the daily drudge of reality. It was similar throughout what then made up the British Empire and Dominions.

    As it was widely and popularly believed that the war 'would be over by Christmas' many young men enlisted who were under age. Two older brothers of my maternal grandmother were among the first to enlist in the summer of 1914. The youngest of these was only 17 at the time but gave a false age and served in the trenches of the Western Front (died in December 1918 aged 22).

    The dance band leader Victor M. Silvester (born 25 February 1900) enlisted to army at the age of 14 years and 9 months. He went on to see active service in both France and Italy. On one occasion he was a member of a firing squad, which he never talked about until many years later. Victor Silvester only talked about many years later.

    These were some of the real experiences that those who came out of the so-called 'Great War' lived with for the rest of their lives. It was not easy to relate these experiences to those who did not have first-hand knowledge of what happened. Somehow life goes on even if society and individuals would never be the same again. This, then, is the background of 'The Absolutist'.

    Well recommended, Catherine!

  2. We recently saw the film adaptation of 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'. Obviously it is a fictional tale but one which could possibly have happened. In addition, it connects with young and old alike.

    Having previously read the book and knew the ending, it was still a shock to the emotional system - more so than when reading book.

  3. For once Joseph, I don't agree with you. The film does not do the book credit. Its merit, however, is to make more people want to discover the work of John Boyne. Since that post was written, something amazing has happened to me in that respect!