A(nother) Review: A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

You know what it’s like, you wait three years for a new John Boyne novel, and then suddenly it’s an annual event.

I was still recommending and thinking about The Heart’s Invisible Furies when a copy of his 2018 offering – A Ladder to The Sky – fell onto my desk. I wasn’t expecting it – after such an excellent piece like Furies, I thought we’d have to wait a couple of years before the next one.

A Ladder to The Sky is a novel about never-ending ambition. The type of ambition that makes you keep on going, setting a new goal every time you reach your previous. Where does it stop… and how much are you willing to do to get there?

At first, I noticed the similarities to The Heart’s Invisible Furies – A Ladder to the Sky at first seems to be a story about an older gay man retelling the story of his life, similar to the way we explored Cyril Avery’s life, however it soon becomes apparent that this is a tale not about the storyteller, but about the listener, Maurice Swift.

The way that Erich Ackermann talks about the young man, it’s impossible not to fall in love with him. And that’s exactly what Ackermann does.

A Ladder to the Sky is a slow exploration into Maurice Swift’s character. It starts off told from afar, each viewpoint getting closer and closer to the truth of who Swift really is.

Boyne’s writing is so clever, he makes us fall in love with Swift, and so quickly, then starts to peel away his layers like an onion. Each of those layers reveals a reason not to love Swift, and all the way through, no matter what terrible thing we learn, it’s difficult not to still harbour a fondness, a certain admiration for Swift.

Even at his most terrible, I found it hard not admire his determination, his self-belief.

I wrote down a few of my favourite lines, either brilliantly written or a nice observation:

Just because one is homosexual does not mean one is lonely.

 

What is loneliness other than the lack of love?

 

Perhaps it would be a good idea if everyone just stopped writing for a couple of years and allowed readers to catch up

 

Perhaps the person I admire most here, though, is John Boyne himself. He takes a complex life, explores it over many years, interacts with many characters and still manages to tie up all the loose strands – if not into a perfectly, resolved bow, then into a close knot.

A brilliant novel from a man who is fast becoming one of my favourite novelists.

A Ladder to the Sky is published by Doubleday and is available now

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