“I had told the truth, or a version of it, anyway.”
— John Boyne, A Ladder to the Sky
Although lies, truth and everything in between blithely blur in this novel, here is one truth: after The Heart’s Invisible Furies, one of my favourite books of 2019, John Boyne has mesmerised me once more with his brilliant Ladder to the Sky.
How can the plot, the characters and the setting seem so authentic, all at the same time? How can this author disappear behind his characters so that we follow them and only them, in a story told so smoothly that it never feels like it required any effort to write these lines?
These lines about ambition and deception – maybe even evil – stir many divergent feelings in readers, blurring the lines between notions once thought unalterable, now shown in a different light through the protagonist’s journey.
Maurice Swift is all about stories, the ones he tells himself as well as the ones he shares with the rest of the world. He desperately wants to be a writer and knows he is good at it but … he lacks inspiration, he struggles to find the raw material in which to dip his quill. However, he does have a precious gift: he can recognise a good story when he sees one. And every good story he can put his hands on will be a step on his ladder to the sky, although some people might get hurt.
Each part of this book (there are three of them and two “interludes”) is told from a different perspective, so that it feels like getting five books in one, a blessing! Every section of the novel invites readers to dive into the intricacies and the cruelty of the literary world. A despicable world, judging by Swift’s story. Is it really accurate? Unfortunately, John Boyne probably knows what he is writing about in this meta book…
The author raises numerous questions: can we, should we separate artists from their work? What does literary ownership mean? Have all stories already been told?
A Ladder to the Sky is a novel for book-lovers who are not afraid of discovering the dark side of the writers they admire, of the volumes they stock on their shelves. It constantly plays with lights and shadows, keeping readers on the edge of their seat throughout its more than 400 pages.
From Berlin to the United States, from the Second World War up to the present day, Maurice and the other characters, all deliciously complex and nuanced, will irremediably leave their mark on readers.
About the book
Publisher: Penguin Books (Black Swan)
Publication year: 2019
Page count: 448