A Ladder to the Sky – by John Boyne – book review

John Boyne is a relatively new discovery for me, a writer of immense talent. In his latest novel, he not only tells a compelling story with a complex protagonist, but also explores the integrity of the publishing business. AND, as if that weren’t enough, he forced me to ponder the nature of personal morality in a way that STILL has me thinking. Awarded five stars on Goodreads.

The central character is Maurice Swift. When we meet him he is a young and very handsome waiter working in Berlin with only two life ambitions: he wants to be a successful writer and he wants to become a father. He is fascinated with stories. When Maurice spots an older, well-known British author in the cafe, he introduces himself and the two begin a friendship that begins to open doors for Maurice.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is its changing voice. While Maurice eventually narrates SOME of his own story, much of what we learn about him comes from the viewpoint of others who enter and then fade out of Maurice’s life. First, from that older writer at the cafe, Erich Ackermann. Then, from a second-rate American writer, Dash Hardy, to whom Maurice is introduced. Later, author Gore Vidal crosses Maurice’s path. Then from Maurice’s wife and son. And much later, from a would-be biographer.

Maurice’s core is his ambition. As his story progresses, we begin to witness all the ways he uses both his looks and those around him to advance his career. It begins with simple “networking.” But slowly, as he achieves greater success and reveals more about himself, Maurice’s interactions and decision-making become more questionable.

Along the way, Boyne manages to raise other profound questions. Is the publishing industry overly ruthless in its quest for financial success? How important are looks to achieving success? If a mistake, made in youth, comes to light when the perpetrator is much older, should it still matter? Exactly where is “the line” that should NEVER be crossed when trying to achieve your dream?

Anytime I come across a book that offers me a great story AND forces me to BOTH think about important life questions AND feel strong emotions, I consider that great literature. This book easily qualifies.

John Boyne

More about the author.

You may be interested in my reviews of other novels by John Boyne:

The Heart’s Invisible Furies

The Absolutist

The House of Special Purpose