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
and also look out for: The terrible thing that happened to Barnaby Brocket.
It may well be announced as a children’s book, but with John Boyne we know better!