Book Title and Author: A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
Publication Date and Publisher: November 13, 2018 by Hogarth Press/Crown Publishing
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary
Pages: 384 pages
Buy on Amazon.com
Date Read: November 4, 2018 (e-arc)
Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for success. The one thing he doesn’t have is talent – but he’s not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don’t need to be his own.
Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann. He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful – but desperately lonely – older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war. Perfect material for Maurice’s first novel.
Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high. Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall…
I knew when I picked up A Ladder to the Sky that I was in for an extraordinary and singular reading experience. After all, it’s written by John Boyne, who is arguably one of the most outstanding contemporary literary authors of our generation. There’s something exceptional in Boyne’s writing ability and if you haven’t read one of his books yet, then I definitely recommend you run out and grab a copy of his latest novel.
Boyne is that rare and remarkable author who writes the perfect novel. His literary phrases and dialogues are gorgeous, his plots clever and intelligent, and his protagonists are unforgettable just like his newest protagonist, Maurice Swift.
When we first meet Maurice, he’s a young and very handsome waiter in West Berlin who catches the eye of the much older and acclaimed German novelist, Erich Ackermann, a very naive and lonely gay man who’s not experienced love since his youth. This part of the story is narrated by Erich, and he tells how alive Maurice’s youth, sexuality, attention, and good looks make him feel, so he asks Maurice, who’s also an aspiring author, to join him on his international book tour as his assistant.
On their travels, Maurice smoothly manipulates Erich into sharing his most shamefully guarded and terrible secrets from when he was a youth in Nazi Germany and deeply in love with his best friend. Maurice is shameless and deceptive in his quest for his own ambition, and he uses Erich’s personal story to write a bestselling first novel that quickly launches his own career while at the same time it destroys Erich’s life.
This is just the start of a deliciously, dark and twisted novel about deceit, manipulations, cruelty, ambition, fame, and the lengths one will go to reach the dizzying heights of success. Just when I thought that Maurice’s actions couldn’t get any more chilling and reprehensible, I came across the horrors (and heartbreaks) awaiting me on the next pages!
Maurice is one of the most sociopathic and amoral characters that I’ve come across in my literary journeys. At first, I thought Maurice was going to be portrayed as a relatable (on some level) antihero. But as the tension continued to rise in each part of the book and the further I read, I realized with loathing he’d stop at nothing, no matter how evil and vile, to achieve his literary ambitions. It became clear Maurice is a soulless villain. Believe me, this is one character you’ll love to hate, and you’ll be hoping for him to receive a dire punishment.
What I found interesting while reading this, was how Boyne satirizes the authors, the publishing world, and the literary lifestyle. How true any of this is, I have no idea, but I think the dark humor of the endless and petty jealousies, the rudeness of the authors and publishers towards each other, the fight for awards and so on, was almost entertaining in a very wicked way, but I do enjoy a good satire!
You can be assured that this is one book that I’ll not forget for a long time because the characters are compelling and powerful (not just Maurice but Erich and Edith!), and you really have to admire a character who is so amoral and villainous that he’s able to do the unconscionable things Maurice does throughout the book! I think A Ladder to the Sky will end up on many reader’s favorites lists this year and well-deservedly too. Once again, Boyne has brilliantly done it…but really, was there any question?
**Thank you NetGalley and Crown Publishing for an ARC to read in exchange for my fair and honest review.**