The Absolutist – John Boyne

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The Absolutist – John Boyne

Post by Graham on Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:45 pm

This is an immensely sad book. As with many authors new to me it took me several chapters to get used to Boyne’s writing. It is sparse, to the point and doesn’t indulge in over-descriptive imagery but the initial problem I had was with the way Boyne chooses to unfold his story. It begins after the first world war when Tristan Sadler, a traumatised ex-serviceman, makes his way to Norwich to deliver a bundle of letters to Marian Bancroft, the sister of his best friend whose bones lie in the muddy trenches of France. The first eighty pages tell a number of apparently unrelated vignettes of his encounters in Norwich. Gradually the present is interspersed with memories of his childhood, his meeting with Will Bancroft during training at Aldershot and the experiences leading to the death of his friend.

It is only in the last pages of the book that everything falls into place and I appreciated Boyne’s adept handling of the story. It is about cowardice, not that for which ostensibly Bancroft was shot but about moral cowardice and the bravery to stand up for one’s convictions. The Absolutist of the title is a conscientious objector who refuses any part in a war even the stretcher duties which were his normal lot, and which usually guaranteed a quick death from a sniper’s bullet. Sadler lacks this quality and spends the rest of his life regretting his actions. Once again, the publisher has stickered the cover of the book with an appeal to lovers of Sebastian Faulks. In this case it is not misplaced.

Graham
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