A Ladder to the Sky // John Boyne

After The Heart’s Invisible Furies became one of my favorite reads of 2018 (full list to come!), I was desperate to get my hands on a copy of A Ladder to the Sky.  I could not put this book down; I read it in a day over a nice, long Thanksgiving weekend, more specifically Sunday, when I should’ve been getting a jump start on end-of-semester projects, but instead I was sucked into another Boyne novel.


From the jacket:

Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for fame.  The one thing he doesn’t have is talent- but he’s not about to let a detail like that stand in his way.  After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere.  They don’t have to be his own.

Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann.  He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful- but desperately lonely- older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war.  Perfect material for Maurice’s first novel.

Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high.  Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top.  But the higher he climbs, the farther he has to fall…


“Everyone has secrets, I had remarked.  There’s something in all our pasts that we wouldn’t want to be revealed.”

-John Boyne, A Ladder to the Sky


Boyne masters the perfect mix of prose and story; he utilizes a highly literary yet entirely readable writing style paired with an engrossing plot and vivid characters.  Boyne sucked me into the story and continually tugged at my emotions.  By the middle of the novel, I despised Maurice and I felt for each of his victims, especially Edith and Daniel.  Maurice is hands down the wildest villain I’ve ever read.  He shows no remorse for his actions and suffers from severe cases of hubris and ambition; with a novel like this, I expected Boyne to illustrate Maurice’s villainous nature and somehow make the reader feel empathy towards him, but Boyne creates Maurice as purely a villain and nothing more.

A Ladder to the Sky moves across place and time; the book is split into three main sections, each with their own narrator and with their own narration style.  I particularly enjoyed the second section, which is narrated in the second person by Edith.  Edith’s story, especially the ending, absolutely slayed me.  From that point on, I was desperate to finish the novel and find out the ending.  In the end, Maurice’s fate is clearly spelled-out in a way that made sense for him as a character but was also pleasing to me as a reader.

John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky is insanely brilliant.  With this novel, Boyne is at the top of his game; after a success like The Heart’s Invisible Furies, I was nervous A Ladder to the Sky would fall short in comparison, but both novels are masterpieces in their own way.

Thank you to Hogarth Books for my copy of A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne.  All thoughts are my own.

Find this book on Goodreads.

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