A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
Finished on March 30, 2019
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good!)
As is my usual practice, I didn't read the publisher's blurb before I began reading this novel. As I typed the blurb for this review, I was glad I hadn't learned some of the subtle details revealed below beforehand. I will keep the blurb for future reference, but you may wish to skip it if you want to be completely surprised by the early details of the narrative. The publisher doesn't give away major, significant details, but there is a bit more than I would have included. Fair warning.
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...
Sweeping across the late twentieth century, A Ladder to the Sky is a fascinating portrait of a relentlessly immoral man, a tour de force of storytelling and the next great novel from an acclaimed literary virtuoso.
John Boyne did not become a favorite author after I read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but The Heart's Invisible Furies won me over early last year. When I heard about this new release, I made a mental note to borrow a copy from the library, but as always, other books called for my attention and I forgot all about it. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago, as I was picking up a book for my husband, that I spotted A Ladder to the Sky. Thank goodness I didn't judge this book by its cover! It's one of the least appealing covers I've seen for a novel in a long time.
But the book. Wow. What a great read! I started and finished the entire 362 pages in about three days, while we were on a camping trip. Granted, we spent a couple of days inside the RV due to the rainy weather, but the book called to me at every waking moment, so I ignored my email, Facebook, Instagram, and Bloglovin and curled up on the couch and read for hours on end. Bliss.
A Ladder to the Sky is divided into three parts, with an interlude between each, and with each new section, the point-of-view shifts from one main character to the next. Characters come and go, but one remains constant throughout the novel. Maurice Swift. It's rare that I enjoy a book so well when the main character is so unlikable and Maurice is one I grew to despise. He is calculating, heartless, ambitious and greedy. One might call him a charlatan or a sociopath, but whatever the label, he was not someone I would care to know.
While one part of the story is predictable, the outcome of that particular event was not. By the time I had finished the book, I was tempted to download the audio version and listen to it right away! This is one I will read again and recommend highly.
On a final note, as I read this addictive, psychological thriller, I found myself comparing Maurice to Tom Ripley. Wow. Now glancing at the review blurbs on Amazon, I see I'm not the only one who felt this way.
“Maurice Swift may not be much of a novelist, but he inhabits a literary tradition going to back to Patricia Highsmith. Boyne’s protagonist is Tom Ripley as literary climber... Boyne’s novel is about high literature but has lower, juicier ambitions, at which it wildly succeeds.”– Vulture
"For Patricia Highsmith fans, thriller aficionados, writers, publishers, literary wannabees, scoundrel sympathizers, John Boyne offers the perfect entertainment for dark winter days." – Boston Globe
"A Talented Mr. Ripley-esque novel of greed and deceit." – New York Post
“John Boyne’s new novel charts the rise and fall of an antihero cut from the same cloth as Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley…. Darkly comic and deliciously vicious, this mesmerizing portrait of a ruthless psychopath explores artistic endeavor, creative ambition and ‘whether our stories belong to us at all.’” – Minneapolis Star Tribune
"A Ladder to the Sky is clever, chilling and beautifully paced; a study of inner corrosion that Patricia Highsmith herself could not have done better... wickedly astute." –The Times (London)It's been a long time since I watched The Talented Mr. Ripley, but now I'm eager to watch the movie or read the book.
"Maurice Swift is a literary Tom Ripley . . . a first-class page turner." –The Guardian