My latest book club read was A Ladder To The Sky by John Boyne. Whilst I am familiar with his previous work this was the first of his novels I have read, and its premise was one I was drawn to as it explores the lengths a person may go to in order to get what they want. And in this story, this takes place in the literary world.
Maurice Swift is an aspiring writer who spots an opportunity when he encounters Erich Ackermann, a celebrated author, in a Berlin hotel. Despite his success we get the sense that Erich is a lonely man, and he is drawn to Maurice, who is an attractive, desirable young man who he wishes to spend more time with, and he subsequently invites him to accompany him on future trips. During this time a bond develops between the two men, or at least so Erich thinks, as it becomes clear that Maurice has a very different motive. Maurice listens to the stories that Erich has to tell, and as he gains his trust these stories become all the more significant, as secrets from the past are revealed, involving events from his past that had shocking consequences, memories that are best left buried. I was gripped by this story as it unfolded, as we begin to get a sense of Maurice’s character, and the way in which he seems able to manipulate any relationship to get what he needs, and to find the story to spark his own success, even when those stories do not belong to him. And this is only the start of a remarkable journey, as the life of this complex character develops.
The novel is broken down into three parts, with a couple of interludes providing additional background which helped add layers to the characters and their stories. I liked the use of the different narrators in each part, where we get to see events from the perspective of Maurice, his wife, and in the opening part, Erich. I thought that the plot developed at a good pace, which kept up the intrigue whilst allowing plenty of time for the development of the characters in all their complexity. Maurice was a fascinating character, a man who seemingly has it all, inventing new ways to achieve greater success, without a care for the impact it may have on those in his path, no matter how catastrophic. His voice is a chilling one, and as the story developed there were moments where I was genuinely shocked by the lengths he would go to in order to achieve the fame that he craves. But whilst there was a dark, sinister tone throughout this book, there were also moments of humour, along with wry observations about the literary world which of course adds an extra layer of interest as a book lover! This was all in all a compulsive read, and one which explores a dark side of the literary world.
A Ladder To The Sky is a well written, unsettling story which explores authorial jealousy, obsession and ambition. It was an intriguing book that kept my attention from the start, with a few surprises along the way as the sinister intentions of Maurice Swift are brought to light.