The Thief of Time (2000): John Boyne

★★★

I’m really not doing very well on the blog-writing front at the moment. In my defence, it has been a dramatic year so far. We nearly sold our flat, nearly bought a house, and then had it all fall through at the last minute. For over a month, I was so busy with estate agents, conveyancers and the Rightmove website that I barely picked up a book, but fortunately all that is on hold for a while. There is some very happy news too: we recently got engaged, and so there’s wedding planning to be done. While trying to form opinions on stationery and flowers, I’m also trying not to lose myself in a pink-saturated Pinterest feed, never to be seen again. As you can imagine, this emotional roller-coaster has disrupted my reading plans. That ambition I had, at the start of lockdown, to finally get beyond the second volume of Proust? Hasn’t happened. However, I have read a variety of entertaining books in recent weeks, ranging from the fabulous sci-fi-necromantic romp that is Gideon the Ninth, to Dolly Alderton’s surprisingly moving and relatable Everything I Know About Love. For the last couple of days – I’m rather ashamed to admit it – I’ve been absorbed in Lady Colin Campbell’s phenomenally gossipy Meghan and Harry: The Real Story, which has provoked numerous exclamations of, “She didn’t!” Please don’t judge me. But I want to start on slightly more conventional ground, with John Boyne’s The Thief of Time – a book which gave me a certain sense of déjà vu.

Continue reading

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2006): John Boyne

★★★★

Oh good heavens. As you know, I’ve wanted to read more John Boyne and, when looking for something short to read between longer books, I spotted this. ‘Yes,’ I said to myself, ‘I know what it’s about. It won’t be fun, I know that. But everyone says how important it is. And besides. It’s a children’s book. It can’t be that bad.’ A day later, I was staring in disbelief at the final page, wondering how on earth I could ever explain this book to my non-existent children and feeling as if I’d been punched in the solar plexus.

Continue reading

Crippen (2004): John Boyne

★★★★

A Novel of Murder

In July 1910, the SS Montrose sets sail from Antwerp on her regular crossing to Canada, and the first-class passengers begin the cautious task of getting to know one another. The pushy Mrs Antoinette Drake and her daughter Victoria are, evidently, going to be trouble; so is the half-feral Tom, nephew of the mysterious Matthieu Zela who has bespoken the Presidential Suite. But there are some amenable characters on board too. Martha Hayes is a quiet spinster hoping to make a new life for herself in Canada; and the self-effacing John Robinson and his seventeen-year-old son Edmund are also escaping to a new world. Meanwhile, back in London, a horrific crime is discovered. Cora Crippen has been murdered and buried in tiny pieces in the cellar of her house. Her husband, Dr Crippen, has absconded with his mistress. But where can they be? And will there be enough time for Inspector Dew of Scotland Yard to track them down?

Continue reading

The Absolutist (2011): John Boyne

★★★★

It is 1919 and Tristan Sadler arrives in Norwich to meet Marian Bancroft, the sister of his friend and comrade Will Bancroft. Tristan has come to return the letters Marian wrote to her brother, which he has kept ever since Will’s death. And yet he hasn’t made this journey solely for the sake of restoring a piece of her family history. There are things Tristan needs to say; amends he needs to make. Will Bancroft didn’t die in action, but was shot by a firing squad of his own peers, hauled up on charges of cowardice after proclaiming himself an ‘absolutist’ – the firmest kind of conscientious objector. Tristan needs to tell Marian that her brother wasn’t a coward; but he also hopes, in meeting her, to find some closure for his own traumatic experiences on the Western Front.

Continue reading