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A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne


Getting in some early morning reading at 2.30am

This is another bookclub pick and I must say I think I may have steered the group toward it as I was so desperate to read it! I already had a copy which I had kindly received from NetGalley but I have since bought myself the paperback as I loved it so much. The bookclub isn't meeting until mid June so I can't discuss it in person with the rest until then. How frustrating, I'm dying to know what the others thought.


I can honestly say I have NEVER read a book so full of despicable characters, not least the main character, Maurice Swift. We follow Maurice from his younger days working as a waiter in Berlin before the wall comes down to his later life; I believe he is in his fifties at the end of the book.


I don't know where to start as I have so much to say but I guess it should be with the man himself. Maurice is a charming, beautiful, ambitious man who will use all his wiles and stop at nothing to get what he wants. More than anything Maurice wants to be a fiction writer and once he has fixed this idea in his head he makes every move imaginable to make it happen. The only stumbling block for Maurice is that he is unable to generate his own ideas. He can write but he has absolutely no imagination.


Boyne uses multiple perspectives throughout the novel and we begin in the third person following an older writer Erich Ackerman in Berlin. Erich and Maurice meet in a restaurant where our young protagonist is waiting tables. The two begin talking and Maurice shares his dreams of being a published writer with Ackerman, who we find out is a successfully published author and winner of 'The Prize', the highest accolade in the publishing industry. Ackerman falls for Maurice's charm and suggests mentoring Maurice if he follows Ackerman on his publicity tour around the world. This way Maurice can learn from someone who is at the top of their game. Maurice does just that and travels around the world from Amsterdam to New York. On their travels, Maurice uses his charms to encourage Ackerman to tell his life story. The older writer becomes infatuated with Maurice and tells him secrets he has told no other. He has never recovered from decisions made as a young man and Maurice uses this information to write a book about Ackerman, who never recovers from the furore which ensues.


Once Maurice has used Ackerman to get a foot on the ladder he befriends Dash Hardy, another older writer. Once again Maurice uses this naive gentleman in order to gain further access to literary greats. There is an interlude where he meets Gore Vidal and for once this worldly writer sees through Maurice and shoots him down in flames (one of my favourite sections).


Maurice goes on to marry, runs a successful magazine in New York, has a child and has the opportunity to lead the life many could only wish for. He is a successful writer, however the main problem in all of this is...he still cannot formulate a single idea for a book. This man wants to be a writer and is a successful one in all ways except he steal his ideas from wherever he can get them and allows no one get in his way; and I mean no one. I should not go into the story any deeper as I fear I will give every plot point away but believe me when I say, no one is safe if they care about Maurice. The title refers to the concept of ambition and how one may as well put a ladder up to the sky if they think they will ever be completely satisfied. Ambition is a never ending state.


I should have been working but the book kept calling...


Boyne is fast becoming an 'autobuy author' for me and I need more of his writing in my life. He moves skilfully from third, to second, to first person as he changes perspectives and it all works so beautifully. The way he mocks and pokes fun at the literary world has the reader smiling and cringing all through this book and I love how I was so drawn into the life of a man I absolutely despised. A great talent indeed; Boyne not Maurice Swift. I absolutely loved this book.


Thank you NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book. This is my unbiased review.

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