Book review: A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

Shocking, suspenseful and above all genius are three words that I’d use to describe John Boyne’s latest novel, A Ladder to the Sky. The story follows Maurice, a young and aspiring novelist with an all-consuming desire for success. Throughout his journey to become an author, Maurice is determined and does not shy away from exploitative or deceitful measures – readers will be asking themselves how far Maurice will really go in order to achieve ultimate fame.

Boyne does not hold back, and this is a refreshing approach. The book begins surprisingly, jumping straight into the story in immense and graphic detail. By discussing mature themes like sexual relationships on a deeply intimate level, to describing evil acts like theft and murder so blatantly, readers are left having to catch their breath from the very start of the novel. Though initially shocking, the vivid detail brings the book to life, giving the story a dimension of reality. Originally, the shock factor does not feel as impactful and could potentially be viewed as a lazy way of tricking the readers into sticking with the story; however when the unexpected plot twists and shocking, explicit sexual and criminally evil details continued to emerge, Boyne’s talent shines through. The novel constantly keeps readers guessing and is exceptionally well crafted.

Clever structure is what makes this novel excel. The story is told through different parts and switching perspectives across multiple characters. The different parts of the novel are set in different locations, and by splitting the novel up in this way, it allows the switching perspectives to feel more realistic. The first part of the novel focuses on the beginning of Maurice’s career, however Boyne breaks readers expectations as the second part, named Interlude, switches location, leaving the path from part one behind. Twists and turns are continued within the switching parts, as when reading each new part with new characters, new detail is added as the story progresses, which keeps the novel exciting.

Though at first this appeared confusing, as Boyne does not initially make it clear whose perspective it is when the story switches, there are subtle hints that enable the reader to piece together what is going on. In this way, reading the novel was an interactive experience that required engagement from the reader in order to evoke the most enjoyment. The switch between perspectives enabled the extent and implications of Maurice’s actions to be told through the eyes of different characters, allowing readers to gain an even deeper picture of his true character. Parts of the novel are set within UEA’s campus, drawing on Boyne’s experience of when he both learnt and taught on the MA Creative Writing course.

At times the story does appear frustrating, as readers wonder whether justice will be served for Maurice’s actions, but Boyne’s excellent manner of storytelling is sure not to disappoint, and the resolution to the novel is spectacular, keeping the consistent playful tone of the novel till the very last line. Though just over 400 pages, the novel is so tightly written that every word is meaningful and elevates the story. Boyne’s engaging writing means that the story does not drag, and instead readers are left constantly wanting to read more. It is clear Boyne could have written more to the story, however the point he chooses to end on is extremely clever, partially satisfying readers’ expectations for the novel, yet throwing in one last plot twist to leave their imaginations whirling.

If you are looking for a novel that will push you as a reader, forcing you to delve deep into the story to try and stay ahead of the plot, A Ladder to the Sky will give you just that. A highly immersive reading experience, this novel is especially fascinating for those interested in literature and the world of success and failure within the industry. Having spent the past 20 years of his life as an author, Boyne infuses the novel with his experience from the literary world, providing an extremely realistic and engaging plotline. This novel is perfect for those looking to be constantly wowed and entertained; uniquely and expertly written, A Ladder to the Sky exceeds all initial expectations.

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Leia Butler

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August 2022
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