Audie Award Nominee, Best Solo Narration, 2013
It is September 1919: Twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a package of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, the man he fought alongside during the Great War. But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan's visit. He can no longer keep a secret and has finally found the courage to unburden himself of it. As Tristan recounts the horrific details of what to him became a senseless war, he also speaks of his friendship with Will - from their first meeting on the training grounds at Aldershot to their farewell in the trenches of northern France. The intensity of their bond brought Tristan happiness and self-discovery as well as confusion and unbearable pain.
The Absolutist is a masterful tale of passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal set in one of the most gruesome trenches of France during World War I. This novel will keep listeners on the edge of their seats until its most extraordinary and unexpected conclusion, and it will stay with them long after they've finished.
©2011 John Boyne (P)2012 Tantor
It's 1916, and Tristan Sadler has lied about his age in order to sign up to play his part in the Great War. Not, like many other boys, because of any rah-rah bandwagonism or sense of duty . . . but what else can a young man do when his family has disowned him? Things are so bad that his father, upon hearing of Tristan's enlistment, declares that he hopes the Germans kill his son, because "that would be the best thing for all of us."
The novel actually begins in 1919, with Tristan, now 21, aboard a train to Norwich with a packet of letters in his pocket. He plans to return them to the writer, the sister of his wartime friend, Will Bancroft, one of the young men who didn't come home. We soon find that Tristan hopes to unburden himself of a secret, one that goes far beyond the sexual identity he has been trying to keep under wraps. Yes, he and Will did have a few romantic interludes, but where Tristan felt deep love for his friend, Will claimed only that the trauma of war and the immediacy of death pushed him to seek "comfort." But what preys on Tristan's mind is their last conversation and the truth--the whole truth--about Will's last moments.
Tristan's narration takes us through horrific scenes in the trenches that are as vivid as any in Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy or Gallipoli. It's difficult to read these passages without despairing over the tragic loss of a generation and the extreme and often pointless sacrifices these young men--many little more than boys--were expected to make.
Some readers have mentioned that Boyne seems to be playing too many themes at once: the repression of homosexuality, an anti-war statement, the struggle between group mentality and personal values, and whether it is better to die for one's principles or to live without any. I wasn't troubled by this; after all, life is complex, not always linear or singularly focused.
Overall, Boyne has given us an original story, finely written.
(I do have one caveat for anyone who, like me, is hearing impaired. Michael Maloney is an excellent reader who is able to distinguish each character with his wide vocal range and repertoire of accents. However, he has a tendency to drop his voice for dramatic effect. I found myself constantly fiddling with the volume controls, and I still feel that I probably missed a lot. If I had it to do over, I would choose to read this book in print.)
An intense book. Difficult to review because the plot cannot be described without spoiling the content. Written in an understated British sort of way and in a way that is unforgettable. I'm glad that I listened to it, but uplifting it is not.
Which came first... the books or the glasses?
This story goes back and forth from 1916 while the 1st person narrator in the story is serving in the war and 1919 after he is out and visiting a sister of a friend from the war. The actual audio narrator is very good. The story is engrossing. I usually don't like stories that go back and forth between time periods but this one is good and the time periods are not that far apart. I recommend this book. Also, I don't usually care for war novels. This one I was able to handle as it was more about relationships and less about day to day war although it did describe what it was like for the soldiers to be at war and the things they were going through.
Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. C.S. Lewis
I thought the characters were well developed and put into a setting seldom used. In fact, it was the setting which made me select the book, not the topic.
And the topic - well, it's something we're all forced to have an opinion of in this age - not having an opinion on this matter is considered a crime of omission.
And that's why I would nominate this book for group discussion - because while reading this book I had several interesting thoughts - and that's a compliment to the author. What intrigues me is that I suspect my thoughts are not the normal reaction to the characters and the situation.
Well done. A book that gives me new thoughts, that is my compliment to the author.
I was a high school history teacher and a physician assistant-retired.
WW1 has just begun and two English boys meet during basic training and become fast friends. Tristan lies about his age to enlist because he has been thrown out of his parental house with his father's condemnation that it would be best if he were killed by a German bullet. Will, the son of a vicar, enlists for patriotic reasons. The boys develop an emotional relationship that becomes strained when Will asks Tristan to support him in a point of principle. Tristan, the more pragmatic of the two, refuses because both he and WIll could be put into jeopardy if Will reveals what really happened to a prisoner of war.
John Boyne deftly straddles the line between cowardice and honor and love and hate. He leaves us stunned as we careen toward an ending so unexpected that I cannot get it our of my mind. This novel is a true tour de force.
I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.
There really isn't a way to review this book without spilling secrets. So I won't. I listened to it without much foreknowledge and was glad for it. I'm not sure I would have started it had I known more - and that would have been my loss.
I wish this had been a book club book. I really needed to talk about it when I was done. Interesting how the big hot issues of today are not so new. Maybe openly talking about issues is new ... but the issues themselves are as old as mankind. It's not only the issues that stick around from generation to generation. Courage and cowardice, too, are timeless. Same with rejection, love, passion and forgiveness.
This book reminds me of others - like Pat Barker's "Regeneration" - but it really stands alone in what it has accomplished. It is beautifully narrated. If you want to listen to a book that will move your soul, this is it. It is not a feel-good story. It is a thinking story. It's perhaps my best recommendation for a book club book in 2014.
Excellent book. Beautifully written. The reading by Michael Maloney is absolutely perfect. Can't imagine a finer interpretation of this lovely book. You won't be disappointed.
Business Physicist and Astronomer
I don't like this question. I probably will not listen to this book again---but not because it's not brilliant. It's ugly and I don't want to go through it again. But it is a great work.
Tristan's meeting with his father before shipping out to war.
Does a great job of bringing the characters to life.
It sickened me. Man's inhumanity can be overwhelming.
I like the book and recommend it but it's not for everyone. You'll gain insight into human suffering but there is nothing uplifting in the book. If you need "happy endings" this wouldn't be for you.
So, I recommend it with a caution.
Chris Reich, TeachU
This is a very thought provoking book. The ending in particular hit like a punch to the gut. That being said, this book is far from perfect, especially where characterization is concerned.
My biggest problem with this book was that I found it hard to sympathize with Will. This could in part be because Boyne did such a good job at getting me on Tristan's side, but I don't think that that's the case. He is supposed to come across as this courageous moral character, but instead he only comes across as needlessly cruel. I know that that is supposed to show him as being a product of his time, but that just isn't how it reads.
As many reviewers have noted, it is a difficult book to review without giving away what is better left to the slow, intense unfolding which is skillfully handled by Boyne. Friendship, moral issues, and the nature of humanity is explored by way of the complicated interaction of two young men who meet in the process of being sent to a brutal war, and the fall-out from that interaction. I admired the carefully controlled, seemingly low-key manner by which Boyne discloses this very emotional tale. I doubt that I would read this again, but not because it was a disappointment or not worthy.
My only complaint was the narrator. Maloney has a very pleasant speaking voice and isn't too bad at various accents. (No idea where the Sargeant was from, though) Maloney needs some training--or something--in reading before a mic. He doesn't seem to understand how to create intensity or anger without simply shouting. Since most of the first person narrative is delivered in well-modulated sotto voce, the sudden too-high volume as a character expresses strong emotion or distance is jarring and unpleasant. Just pulling away from the mic or muffling it would have helped. If Maloney could improve his technique, he could be a very good narrator.
Despite the narration, I recommend the book with no reservations.
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