If you loved The Heart’s Invisible Furies and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne like I did, although very different, you may want to check out A Ladder to the Sky. This incredible story keeps you on your toes…guessing who the narrator is, who the story is about and hoping the main character isn’t as bad as he seems. And he is!
Maurice Swift, a manipulative psychopath with good looks and charm is an up and coming talented writer who struggles to come up with his own stories to tell. He works his way into a relationship with Erik Ackermann, a successful author, and this unsuspecting gentleman becomes his mentor. Ackermann advises him to pay attention to others stories, and Maurice does just that. Ackermann shares his shady past as a young man in Germany during the war, and Maurice uses those personal details to write his new novel, exposing Ackermann’s tragic decisions, destroying the man’s career and reputation and achieving great success for himself as an author.
And this was only the first person he takes down.
From another successful author named Dash, to his writer/professor wife Edith, to his young son Daniel, Maurice destroys everyone in his wake and shows us how to live with the intention of success at any cost, feeling nothing toward fellow humans and not considering any consequences of behavior.
I loved the different voices and perspectives John Boyne brings us in A Ladder to the Sky and was intrigued with this despicable main character and his relationships. I especially enjoyed the section narrated by his wife, Edith as she told her story from a coma, and was in disbelief more than once as Maurice’s behaviors lead to the demise of his friends and family. A Mr. Ripley-like charmer, Maurice Swift is a horrible man who is wonderful to read about… created by one of my favorite and most talented authors, John Boyne.
A Ladder to the Sky is a perfect book club choice – everyone in my group enjoyed the story, the writing and the discussion!
A Few Book Club Discussion Take Aways
Gore Vidal shows up in the story as himself, living on the Italian coast where Maurice goes to visit. Gore is the only person who can see right through Maurice and his unsavory ways. I did a bit of research on the actual Gore Vidal and found that he cheated often in school, had over 1000 sexual partners by the age of 25, was bisexual and preferred men, loved the spotlight, had to wrote under a pen name due to bad publicity, lived in Italy and had a partner for 50 years he didn’t sleep with. It is clear that Boyne’s characters were influenced by the true Gore Vidal and his lifestyle, and because Maurice was so similar to Vidal in the story, Vidal recognized himself in his manipulative houseguest and was not drawn in and destroyed.
Some research on John Boyne led us to learn he was married for 11 years when he and his husband broke up. He battled depression, overdosed and then called the ambulance to save himself. His home had been chosen as Ireland’s Celebrity Home of the Year. He wrote a YA book, My Brother’s Name is Jessica, with a transgender character that was not well received by the trans community and was harassed on social media, leading to death threats, a shut down of his personal sites and increased security at his well known home. Boyne’s used this experience to inform his next YA novel written about harassment on social media.
About the Author
I was born in Dublin, Ireland, and studied English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.
I’ve published 13 novels for adults, 6 novels for younger readers, and a short story collection, including The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas which was a New York Times no.1 Bestseller and was adapted for a feature film, a play, a ballet and an opera, selling around 11 million copies worldwide.
Among my most popular books are The Heart’s Invisible Furies, A Ladder to the Sky and My Brother’s Name is Jessica.
In 2012, I was awarded the Hennessy Literary ‘Hall of Fame’ Award for my body of work. I’ve also won 3 Irish Book Awards, and many international literary awards, including the Que Leer Award for Novel of the Year in Spain and the Gustav Heinemann Peace Prize in Germany. In 2015, I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of East Anglia.
My novels are published in 54 languages.
My 13th adult novel, THE ECHO CHAMBER, which explores the negative effect of social media on society, was published in August 2021 and reached no.1 on the Bestseller Charts in Ireland.
All of John Boyne’s books can be seen HERE