Review: A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

It’s such a great feeling to discover a new author (new to me, I must clarify, John Boyne has a prolific back catalogue). A Ladder to the Sky was a #Bookstagram made me do it read. And I’m so glad it did. John Boyne has been on my TBR for a while now and I am totally enchanted by his storytelling.

Opening sentence: From the moment I accepted the invitation, I was nervous about returning to Germany.

So, what do I like so much?

Well, we meet Maurice Swift. A Yorkshire man who dreams of being a super-successful author. Maurice’s gifts sadly don’t lie in conjuring up original stories, although he can pull some pretty impressive prose together.

‘I want to be a success,’ he replied, and perhaps I should have heard the deep intent in his tone and been frightened by it. ‘It’s all that matters to me. I’ll do whatever it takes to succeed.’

As a young man, Maurice befriends German author Erich Ackermann. Erich was a gay man growing up in Nazi Germany, this is a really interesting part of the plot. His personal story is fascinating and tragic – and Maurice takes full advantage of that.

Yes. The concept of literary ownership itself, or even literary theft. Of whether our stories belong to us at all.

Secrets and Lies

Maurice’s sexuality is as much a part of his grand plan to get to the top as any other facet of his character. If it helps him for people to think he’s gay, he lets them, but he also marries a woman – Edith. A fellow author, she is hugely talented. Will Maurice try and use that his advantage? I think you know the answer. But it’s how he does it that’s so delicious to read about.

I loved the references to real life authors (for example Gore Vidal) and the way we learn sections of their stories too.

Gore enjoyed the look on the boy’s face at that moment, although it was almost impossible to interpret exactly what he was thinking. Why, he thought, he could write a thousand words on that expression alone.

Maurice’s quest for greatness and literary ambition defintiely didn’t take the turn I thought it would – making A Ladder to the Sky an even more exciting read for me. Thoroughly enjoyed it, right to the very last page.

John Boyne is my new favourite

John Boyne’s tone is so lyrical and so readable. I was swept up immediately – it’s often funny but cutting too. A wonderful mix – one of my preferred mixes. And Maurice is that perfect character blend of unlikeable yet totally addictive. I always love reading about just how far someone will go to get what they want.

Everyone has secrets, I had remarked. There’s something in all our pasts that we wouldn’t want to be revealed. And that’s where you’ll find your story.

A Ladder to the Sky actually reminds of this insane article about author A. J. Finn who had a huge hit with The Woman in the Window, but whose real life escapades and lies outstripped his novel in terms of plot twists.

As I write this review, my friend is reading John Boyne’s new novel, A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom and on a recent Zoom catch up, she read me the opening pages – and I was instantly hooked. This tells me that John Boyne is defintiely an author I’m going to devour. I loved A Ladder to the Sky and I’m excited there are so many other John Boyne books waiting for me to read.

Which one would you recommend I put next on my list?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

2 thoughts

  1. Rear The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I read it on a plane to Houston (back when you could do such things) and hardly noticed I was on a plane. One of my favourite books ever. I will pick up A Ladder to the Sky based on your review!

    Liked by 1 person

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