Monday, February 18, 2019

A Ladder to the Sky

Title:  A Ladder to the Sky
Author:  John Boyne
Publication Information:  Hogarth. 2018. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1984823019 / 978-1984823014

Book Source:  I received this book through Penguin First to Read free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "From the moment I accepted the invitation, I was nervous about returning to Germany."

Favorite Quote:  "But revisionism is revisionism and at least it gave me hope, that, long after I'm gone, readers will rediscover me and my reputation will be restored."

Maurice Swift can put words together but has no imagination to create stories. He is ambitious. He covets success and stardom. What is he to do?

Early on in his life, he discovers the secret that is the recurring theme to this book:
  • "There's something in all our past that we wouldn't want to be revealed. Look around the foyer the next time you're there and ask yourself, What would each of these people prefer that I didn't know about them? And that's where you'll find your story."
  • "Everyone has secrets ... There's something in all our pasts that we wouldn't want to be revealed. And that's where you'll find your story."
  • "The fact is that we all have skeletons in our closets, histories of which we would prefer the world to remain ignorant."
It all begins with his introduction to author Erich Ackermann. With Erich's story of the past begins Maurice's story of his future. Some see through him and refuse to fall under his spell. "I think Maurice is whatever he needs to be, whenever he needs to be it. He's an operator, that's for sure." Other's are not quite as fortunate.

Maurice feels no remorse, and his justification of his escalating actions continues. It is not that he is unaware. He seems to genuinely justified in what he does. "I could have a heart of stone for all they know. I could be psychopath or a sociopath. Not all monsters look like the Elephant Man, and not everyone who looks like the Elephant Man is a monster."

This book continues from episode to episode of each decision Maurice makes to further his own needs. Each person he meets becomes a rung on his own ladder to success as a writer. This book is a character study that is horrifying to watch develop but impossible to look away from. At each juncture, I wonder. Surely, he must stop now. Surely, he must see the horror of his actions. At each juncture, I am proven wrong and at the same time intrigued enough to turn the page and see what comes next. It does get to a point that makes me think that surely no one could go that far except that we all know the news is sadly full of people who do.

Without a spoiler, I will say that I am not sure how I feel about the ending. The question remains in my mind that given Maurice's manipulation of people throughout this book, was this ending possible?  There is another part of me that says that this was the only ending possible. However, was it perhaps too perfect an ending as to be contrived? I suppose the ending accomplishes its purpose; it will keep me thinking for a long while.

The other question that the book poses is an ethical one. Someone who knows you are a writer shares a personal story with you. You take that life experience and turn it into a story without explicitly asking permission. Are you wrong? Did you betray a confidence or are you in the clear because the person knows you are a writer looking for a story?

Intriguing questions and a fascinating and horrifying character make this a memorable book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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