Cynthia's Reviews > The Absolutist

The Absolutist by John Boyne
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Jul 04, 12

bookshelves: books-read-in-2012
Read in June, 2012

Yes or No?

It sounds over simplistic but much of life's choices do come down to a yes or a no. Some things are non-negotiable. Our hero, Tristan Sadler, knows who he is, he's always known. His problem is how others react to that. Though it's a gift that he's become clear about his values he still has to fit into the world and he has a sincere desire to connect with others. "The Absolutist" is a coming of age story set against the First World War. This might sound dated but Tristan's dilemmas are timeless. We're still wrestling with human dignity, respect for others, the morality or immorality of war, and who should fight both the wars and resolve social issues.

Tristan leaves home at 16 after he and his parents have a bitter argument. He does what he can to support himself that first year, then at 17 he lies about his age in order to enlist in the Army. During basic training he meets new people and becomes best friends with a Norwich man named Will Bancroft, a vicar's son who's only a year older than him. Will and Tristan both grapple with a fellow soldier's conscientious objector stance. This fellow is scorned by the officers and the other recruits and to a lesser extent even Tristan scorns him. Will is not so hasty. He befriends the objector and begins to be swayed by his doubts. Then all the boys head to France and the hell of war. They live with constant fear and grasp for shreds of humanity wherever they can find it.

Boyne's affecting book begins and ends with Tristan's meeting with Will's sister Marian. Together they attempt to thrash out their versions of morality and truth. They also help one another work through how to love and who to love. This is a melancholy tale but it's not morose. Boyne's world has hope if only in the form learning to cope, to survive. The title, "The Absolutist", is apt Boyne shine's light in dark places, he shows the grays as well as the blacks and whites. His characters are individuals but they're also representations of larger social issues. The story pivots between the recent past and present of the First World War with a short coda in the late 1970's. At the end of the lives both Tristan and Marian still have doubts about their choices. This period in our history was harsh. Boyne shows some poignant parallels with our present. I have no idea how I've overlooked this fine author for so long. With "The Absolutist" I'm a convert.

This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher.

4.5/5 stars
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Comments (showing 1-12)




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message 12: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Reading your review, I'm reminded of Barry's A Long Long Way, Cynthia. Did you find any similarities between the two?


Cynthia Teresa of course the setting is partly the same but there are no references to Ireland and her unique relation to the war. The Absolutist felt more personal, less political. I liked it better and you know I love Barry.


message 10: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Cynthia wrote: "Teresa of course the setting is partly the same but there are no references to Ireland and her unique relation to the war. The Absolutist felt more personal, less political. I liked it better and..."

Interesting, because I find Barry is great at showing the political through the personal.

And the only Boyne I've read ("Boy in the Striped Pajamas") felt more allegorical than personal.

High praise!


Cynthia I've come to see we differ more than I thought on our book opinions so see it through that screen.


message 8: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Teresa wrote: "And the only Boyne I've read ("Boy in the Striped Pajamas") felt more allegorical than personal.

And perhaps I should say 'fable' rather than 'allegorical.'


message 7: by James (new)

James Murphy Maybe not the political, but your seeing larger universal issues beyond the personal makes this sound interesting.


Cynthia Murph and Teresa I'm kind of walking the fence here because I don't want to give away too much of the book though the plot point I'm trying to conceal is fairly obvious. And that issue became more personal to me lately. I hope I'm not sounding needlessly cloak and dagger.

WWI was so relentless wasn't it. All that being trapped in a trench! I started 'the long walk' recently which is about bomb explosive detonating soldiers and I see so many parallels between the trenches and our soldiers in the middle east. They're stuck in streets trying to protect the people and themselves yet they're surrounded by people who might be their enemies, who've planted bombs, but right next to them are the people they want to protect. That feels a lot like being in a trench to me.


message 5: by James (new)

James Murphy I can see you with a cloak, Cynthia, but not a dagger. You've interested me with this novel, though, and I'm gonna look at it.


Cynthia In case you guys are interested heres a Publisher's Weekly interview with Brian Kastner the author of 'the long walk':

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by...


Cynthia Murph with your interest in military history I think you'd like this book....actually either 'walk' or 'absolutist'.


message 2: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Cynthia wrote: "In case you guys are interested heres a Publisher's Weekly interview with Brian Kastner the author of 'the long walk':

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by......"


Thanks, Cynthia. I like what he says about memoir and emotional honesty.


message 1: by James (new)

James Murphy Thanks, Cynthia. Interesting interview.


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