Well, it’s official. I am a huge John Boyne fan. I don’t follow many authors but Boyne has joined my special club and I am in awe of his ability. This book did not disappoint. I was gripped from the outset: “Seated opposite me in the railway carriage, the elderly lady in the fox-fur shawl was recalling some of the murders that she had committed over the years.” I read this, expecting the book to unfold as a thriller, took a deep breath, anticipating the regular formula to unravel as I read through the text. So, I was duly surprised when it eventuated that said “elderly lady” was an author, and the murders to which she was referring were from books that she had written.
But this, of course, had absolutely nothing at all to do with the book itself. Instead I was quickly introduced to the narrator, one Tristan Sadler. A young man with a treacherous secret and a sordid history of experience during the Great War in France.
The book follows Sadler, alternating between his recollection of his time as a soldier and his attempt to come to terms, in the present, with the consequences of actions that he took while in combat, in France. I found that the mix of these two times – present and past – worked extremely effectively and allowed Boyne to truly explore the weight of Sadler’s conscience (or lack thereof).
Not only does this book present an excellent insight into conditions at the Front, but it also allows readers to properly appreciate the complexities of those left on the Homefront, specifically women who were waging their own battle to gain the right to vote and to be allowed a “room of one’s own”, to use Woolf’s turn of phrase. I was particularly moved by Boyne’s ability to convey the horrors of war and the insanity which follows such depravity. He uses this background with great flair to explore the twist that is Sadler’s cross to bear throughout his life.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book.