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BookBrowse Reviews A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

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A Ladder to the Sky

A Novel

by John Boyne

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne X
A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 400 pages

    Aug 2019, 400 pages


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About this Book



A fascinating portrait of a relentlessly immoral man, a tour de force of storytelling, and the next great novel from an acclaimed literary virtuoso.

Of our 44 First Impression readers, 32 gave A Ladder to the Sky a four- or five-star review for an average rating of 4.5.

What it's about:
John Boyne's A Ladder to the Sky is a novel about literary theft and ambition (Constance C). Its main character, Maurice Swift, badly wants to be a writer but lacks the requisite imagination and skills; he must therefore resort to stealing the work of others (Dottie B). Divided into sections, each part is narrated by a different character who provides a varying perspective of Swift's rise in the literary world. The reader is swept along from 1988 to the present, only slowly becoming more and more aware of the plagiarist's true nature and the lengths to which he will go to ensure success (Suzette P).

The book takes readers into the world of publishing and other industries:
The novel is a marvelous send-up of the contemporary publishing world and the literati (Deborah M); it feels like an insider peek into the industry (Anita P). Boyne depicts it as a particularly nasty business; if you entertain the notion of becoming a published author, maybe you shouldn't read this novel…but then again, maybe you should (Dottie B). It is eerily on target in this day of electronic and social media and is applicable across all professions; it considers decisions we all face every day. What makes a story, ad or design, your own? Have you seen things in social media or at conferences that would make you and your company more successful? Have you woven ideas heard at a dinner gathering, conference, or neighborhood pool party into an award-winning product? Was there a mentor that opened doors for you? (Cheryl M).

Readers find it exceptionally relevant to today's debates:
I think Boyne is after bigger game than a clever send-up of writers, literary academe and the publishing industry, while raising a few philosophical questions along the way. He's holding up a mirror to human nature, but especially he's warning us: this is what the embodiment of evil looks like, here and now. Bystanders enable bullies; if we look away, silent, even for a moment or two, we do so at our peril (Janice P).

Nearly all readers commented on the book's main character:
This is a look into the twisted mind of a master manipulator (Suzette P), a wonderfully dark tale with an evil, ruthless protagonist (Susan S). Swift is the type of villain that readers love to hate (Anita P). The character is completely unscrupulous, and yet is able to use his charm and good looks to go after those who have what he most covets. Watching him entrap and manipulate the people he chooses to use is mesmerizing and still I was shocked at the depths to which he would go to achieve success (Julie G). I often find it difficult to read about someone I find unlikable, but in this instance I could not wait to see what he did next (Lynn W).

Most are fans of the author and found this novel compares well with his previous works:
Boyne is a gifted storyteller. He captures something essential about ambition here (Lorri S). He has a marvelous dry and dark humor, yet he can also write with such empathy and compassion; in my opinion he is one of the most accomplished authors writing today (Cheryl S). His The Heart's Invisible Furies was my favorite book last year and this one may be my favorite for this year (Anita P).

The comments about the book were glowing:

This tale of ambition run amok is compelling from beginning to end (Lorri S). This fast-paced and captivating book (Suzette P) is a thoroughly entertaining and fun read! (Julie M). I wondered at first if I could be enthusiastic about it, since it's so different from Boyne's others. The answer is yes (Janice P). I could not put the book down, and it remained riveting until the final page (Julie G).

Some didn't like the protagonist:
Sorry, but Swift and his attempts to gain notoriety in the literary world could not hold my interest (Freya H). I struggled to find redeeming qualities in the protagonist and simply never came up with anything. The plot tended to ramble with the extensive character development of Maurice Swift and his "acquaintances." I found myself often losing interest and longing to skip ahead to the end. The sexual overtones felt somewhat forced and lent themselves to the unpleasant character who is Mr. Swift (Liz B).

But overall our First Impression reviewers recommend the book:
If you are a reader for whom the phrase "wonderfully dark" resonates, then I highly recommend this extremely well-written, entertaining novel (Susan S). I think it would make an excellent book club selection (Amy W). I have already passed it along to my husband with a "you will love this" endorsement. Can I give it 6 stars? (Kenan R).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in November 2018, and has been updated for the September 2019 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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