John Boyne A Ladder to the Sky

Book Review | A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

Maurice Swift is single-minded in pursuit of his goal: to be one of the most eminent writers of his generation. The only problem is that he is essentially talentless, Machiavellian, and a master manipulator of everyone he meets.

He seizes the opportunity to befriend lonely, successful writer Erich Ackermann in a West Berlin hotel. The year is 1988, and Erich is in the city for a reading of his latest novel. Ingratiating himself into Erich’s orbit, helped in no small measure by his startling good looks and boyish charisma, Erich hires him as his assistant to accompany him on his book tour. Throughout the months they spend together, Maurice coaxes out of the old man a terrible admission from his childhood in Nazi Germany. Spotting perfect fodder for his debut novel, Maurice publishes the story to wide critical acclaim, propelling himself to stratospheric heights – as Erich is denounced, despised and laid waste.

“Did you ever wish you had a wife?” asked Dash. “Did you ever wish that you could just have lived a normal life instead of suffering the endless pain that men like us undergo, falling for beautiful boys who will never stay with us, no matter what we do for them?”

So Erich marks the first of Maurice’s victims, in a propulsive and wickedly enjoyable psychological drama that takes us across Europe and across the next three decades, leaving a quiet trail of devastation in its wake. The novel is narrated through every perspective other than that of Maurice – until the very end. And Maurice is in equal parts repulsive and enthralling to the reader, with so few scruples and yet the depths to which he will sink continue to surprise us, leaving a sick, sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach each time his latest deviance is revealed.

John Boyne is a masterful storyteller, and he writes characters with such insight and wit. It takes talent to juggle the crafting of three-dimensional and compelling perspectives alongside a wild ride of a plot, satirizing the world of publishing and the depths to which writers are driven for commercial and literary success, and all the while the tension mounts.

“How often do we see people as we want them to be, rather than as who they actually are?”

Witty, chilling and captivating – John Boyne is cementing himself as an author on my must-read list.

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