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The Absolutist

A Novel

by John Boyne

The Absolutist by John Boyne X
The Absolutist by John Boyne
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  • Paperback:
    Jul 2012, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby
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Hilda

The Absolutist
This first-narrative story is about Tristan Sadler, a young man within his twenties who fought as a soldier during the Great War. At the front, he fought alongside Will Bancroft, who eventually declared himself an absolutist. This is the most extreme way to show objection against warfare and, during the aftermath of the First World War, a disgrace in the eyes of many English people. A year after the war, Tristan finds the courage to pay a visit to Will’s sister Marian in order to return a couple of letters. However, there is an underlying reason for his visit, a secret that has been dominating his life ever since. What events caused Tristan to suffer from this mental war?

The Absolutist encourages you to think about the importance of acceptance. While I was carefully reading the last pages, it occurred to me that tears had started to appear in my eyes. The contempt towards people because of their convictions or sexuality had caused feelings of resentment and sadness. Although the author had been able to evoke these emotions, I think the ending was too superficial. As the story progresses, Tristan’s burden is carefully unraveled. If the author had also paid more attention to the conflicting ethics or opinions and mixed feelings this secret could have raised after being unburdened, the ending would have given more food for thought. To me, Marian’s reaction lacked complexity and compassion.

One of the weaknesses of the novel’s weaknesses can be its style, which encompasses simple and direct sentences, as this description of warfare shows: “… the sudden bursts of electric sparks signify the dropping of bombs on the heads of German or English or French soldiers.” On the one hand, this adds fluency to the story. To readers who favour a more literary, poetic style, on the other hand, the novel may appear to lack detailed descriptions and a surprising and creative choice of words. Nonetheless, the novel also entails some strong points. One of The Absolutist’s great points is the way the under-exposed theme of conscientious objection and the modern theme of homophobia come together to an unpredictable climax and are clearly expressed in quotes such as “This man refused to fight during this evening’s attack. He will be shot tomorrow morning at six o’clock. That is how we punish cowards.” These quotes made me wonder what braveness actually looks like. Is refusing to fight an expression of braveness? And how should we judge this deed in comparison with the soldiers who did sacrifice their lives the very moment they entered No Man’s Land?

At first I thought the straightforward style of this novel made the story lack complexity. Conversely, I soon realised the author had put much effort in thoughtfully building up the story towards an unforeseeable climax. Besides, Boyne has been able to combine two beautiful, to me, uncommon themes and express them clearly. Lastly, I am of the opinion that the end of the story would have been deeper if the author had paid more attention to the controversy the secret could evoke. All in all, I think The Absolutist is not a complicated, but rather intriguing and moving war story with a surprising and wonderful climax. Other recommendable novels within the same genre of historical fiction are The Ghost Road by Pat Barker and The Charioteer by Mary Renault.
katy lee

heartbreakingly sad
When I first started reading this book I didn't even know what it was about to be honest, but by pg 16 I knew I couldn't just put it down. The next two days I read it whenever I could. The relationship between Will and Tristan so sweet and will almost feeling ashamed I way you assume that he waits to make a move with Tristan, but later you find it's a whole other reason. This book was amazing, the narrating addicting. Through when I got to the near end I found I didn't like the end twist on the story, it was unexpected and out of character as if he changed who will was in whole. Which is expected in a war novel, but what he says in the end makes no sense as the the beginning as if he was just pretending to be that person. All in all it was a good book until the last 100 pgs which were a heart tearing twist and honestly I think it could have ended better.
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