A Ladder to the Sky, John Boyne
What a book. John Boyne will forever hold a place at the table as one of my favourite authors. His ability to tell a story and hold you until the very end is nothing short of magical.
This is slightly different to Boyne’s other books as normally we crash head long in love with our main characters and wish the very best for them. Not so much with Maurice Swift. He’s a cheat, a killer and well, not sorry about it. It’s hard to love Maurice Swift but I have to say, you do walk away admiring his audacity. Sadly he doesn’t even fit the anti-hero, which we seem to be obsessed with at the mo, Comoran Strike anyone? But Boyne weaves his magic so we don’t actively hate Mr. Swift, well some might, but I personally didn’t end the book in a rage - more of an ‘wow he really is a deluded psychopath isn’t he?’. After all it is fiction. But my word what brilliant fiction.
This would make an excellent film. Mostly I would just love them to cast Sam Claflin as the younger Maurice and Hugh Grant as the older. God wouldn’t that be fab. Anyways back to the book. This is a story about Maurice Swift, a young lad with enormous ambition. Boyne explores the parameters how far one would go to get what one wanted, in this case a writing career. It feels so expertly written because writing is a topic Boyne naturally knows inside and out. Relationships with editors, the festival scene, the literary prizes - it’s all there, all the gory details of being an author. It’s so wonderfully dark and honest. There’s also a few nice touch points where you can feel as if Boyne is taking the micky out of himself and writers in general, which adds real charm and depth to the story. He’s not afraid to satirise his own trade. Starting in the 80’s we travel through Maurice’s life and his up and down career. Each part delivering more evidence to just how ruthless he can be.
I’ve seen a few people compare it to the likes of the Talented Mr. Ripley and I completely get it. The ambition that drives Maurice Swift is the same as Ripley, quite simply, it is endless. Also there is a similar improvisation to their actions which makes them scarily unpredictable and as Machiavellian as you can get. This isn’t random but rather, cold, calculated and a dark driving force of evil. Evil may be too strong as he has no desires to take over the world. It’s more of a personal evil, which only makes it all the more disturbing. He only desires for himself to be on top and to reap the rewards of being there and there’s no room for anyone else.
Betrayal, manipulation and selling your soul are at the heart of this novel and Boyne delivers a wonderfully twisted tale about the price of ambition. It’s such a satisfying read, throwing up many questions around the ownership of stories as well as how far we push our moral boundaries to get ahead in life. Such an excellent bit of contemporary fiction.
Read this if you are a fan of John Boyne. Read this if you’ve never read any of his stuff before. And then I shall welcome you with open arms to the fan club.