-- John Irving
A masterfully told tale of passion, jealousy, heroism and betrayal set in the gruesome trenches of World War I. Read more...
A masterfully told tale of passion, jealousy, heroism and betrayal set in the gruesome trenches of World War I. 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 readers on the edge of their seats until its most extraordinary and unexpected conclusion, and will stay with them long after they've turned the last page.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-04-09
- Reviewer: Staff
Boyne’s new novel documents the lives of two inseparable men navigating the trenches of WWI and the ramifications of a taboo involvement. The emotive wartime saga is narrated by Tristan Sadler, a soldier en route to visit his dead comrade Will Bancroft’s older sister Marian in Norwich, England, a few years after serving in the Great War. The story oscillates between Sadler’s trip in 1919 to return Will’s letters to Marian, and recollections of wartime, including a forbidden and fleeting homosexual affair with Bancroft, depicted by Boyne with the same polite, properly delicate prose that permeates the book. Bancroft is the self-declared “absolutist” of the title, objecting not only to fighting, but to doing anything at all that would “further the war effort.” Sadler’s feelings for Bancroft bring him shame amid the horrors of battle, eventually making an absolutist of Sadler as well. When the young Sadler confides the details of his time with Bancroft to Marian, she rejects him, a reaction echoed 60 years later, by which time Sadler has come into his own as a literary sensation. Once again he braves Marian’s disapproval, inciting a final heartbreak. A relentlessly tragic yet beautifully crafted novel from Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). Agent: Bonnie Nadell, Hill Nadell Literary Agency. (July)
Bearing the scars of war
John Boyne has a gift for crafting historical tales that hold all the richness and scope of a period while still maintaining a sense of intimacy. The Absolutist might be his most intimate story yet—a journey inside the mind of a man who’s seen the horror of war, and the tale of his quest to somehow find peace in the lonely aftermath.
In the fall of 1919, World War I veteran Tristan Sadler travels from London to Norwich to deliver a package of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, a soldier Tristan met while training for the war in 1916. Tristan bears the scars of war on his body, but the real reason for his journey is the scars on his heart. The world knows only that Tristan and Will were friends, and how Will officially met his end. But the truth is that Tristan and Will were something more, and what really happened to Will is a secret that cuts Tristan deeper than any war wound.
Many volumes of historical fiction swell to massive length thanks to the author’s penchant for period details and historical info-dumps. Amid other works of its genre, The Absolutist is surprisingly slim. Boyne conveys the period accurately and elegantly, but the characters—specifically Tristan, who narrates—are the stars. This isn’t a novel about WWI; it’s a novel about the unique horror of one man’s experience, and Boyne makes every word count.
By the end, when Tristan’s secrets are revealed, you realize you’ve just encountered something rare in a war novel: a unique vision of the scarred, reluctant warrior trope. You might think you recognize Tristan’s type, but as Boyne unfolds his tale he ensures that you don’t. This is a different kind of journey into the darkness of war, told by a gifted, powerful novelist, and the result is a book with an often staggering emotional punch.