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A Ladder to the Sky

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Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for fame. The one thing he doesn’t have is talent—but he’s not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don’t need to be his own.

Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann. He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful – but desperately lonely – older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war. Perfect material for Maurice’s first novel.

Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high. Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall. . . .

Sweeping across the late twentieth century, A Ladder to the Sky is a fascinating portrait of a relentlessly immoral man, a tour de force of storytelling, and the next great novel from an acclaimed literary virtuoso.

362 pages, Hardcover

First published August 9, 2018

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About the author

John Boyne

58 books11k followers
I was born in Dublin, Ireland, and studied English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. In 2015, I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by UEA.

I’ve published 14 novels for adults, 6 novels for younger readers, and a short story collection. The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas 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.

I’m also a regular book reviewer for The Irish Times.

In 2012, I was awarded the Hennessy Literary ‘Hall of Fame’ Award for my body of work. I’ve also won 4 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 58 languages.

My 14th adult novel, ALL THE BROKEN PLACES, a sequel and companion novel to THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS, will be published in the UK on September 15th 2022, in the US and Canada on November 29th, and in many foreign language editions in late 2022 and 2023.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,856 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,990 reviews298k followers
November 12, 2018
Everyone has secrets, I had remarked. There’s something in all our pasts that we wouldn’t want to be revealed.

This book was extraordinary. I can't think of a more appropriate way to put it. It's a story made up of fascinating characters, amusing literary criticism, fantastic dialogue, and moments of such terrifying desperation and horror that I sat staring wide-eyed at my Kindle.

And I wasn't sure about it at first, to be honest. Books about writers, the publishing process and literary criticism are not usually my cup of tea, but I fell so deeply in love with Boyne's The Heart's Invisible Furies that I wanted to give this a shot. And I am so so glad that I did. While A Ladder to the Sky is most definitely a character study, it's seemingly quiet nature soon gives way to dark secrets and unbelievable horrors. I can't stop thinking about it.

The story is built up via a compelling past tense narrative that seems to foreshadow an inevitable doom. Each "section" of the book starts fairly innocuously, but through carefully-crafted character dynamics, something much more sinister emerges.

In the first part of the novel, aging author Erich Ackermann becomes enamored with a beautiful young man and aspiring writer called Maurice Swift. His obsession with Maurice leads him to naivete, trusting him with ugly truths from his early life as a gay second-degree mischling in Nazi Germany; truths which Maurice then uses for his first novel. Erich's career is destroyed when he is revealed as the inspiration behind the book, while Maurice's takes off.

After a brief interlude which features a meeting between Maurice and Gore Vidal (and the witty insights we would expect from him), the next section reveals that Maurice is now married. This part is narrated by his wife and addressed to "you", or Maurice, an effective choice which is made even more effective when we eventually discover the reason why.

Maurice is one fascinating character in a sea of fascinating characters here. He is an attractive man who uses his looks and careful manipulation to further his ambitions - but the question is: how far is he willing to go for a story idea?

It's really effective how the darker aspects of this story creep into what first seems like a quiet character study about art and writing. Boyne explores the fine lines between first love and obsession, between competition and jealousy, between ambition and fanaticism... and he does it all with dashes of the wit and humour I so loved in The Heart's Invisible Furies.

It is especially interesting how he looks at blame and who deserves to be held accountable for their actions. Not just with Maurice, but with Erich, too. Erich is such a complex character - old, lonely, desperate, carrying a terrible secret - and at a glance his punishment might even seem fitting. But is it? Are there terrible circumstances which demand exceptions to be made? Perhaps. In any case, it is hard to feel any satisfaction at his downfall.

It's just an absolutely captivating book about people and their stories-- the ones they tell and the ones they don't. I MUST read more of Boyne's work.

CW: antisemitism; rape; murder; racism; homophobia.

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Profile Image for Melissa.
647 reviews28.7k followers
January 14, 2019
Masterfully manipulative. Cunning. Ingenious. Exceptional.

There are times when the sheer cleverness involved with what I’ve just read requires time to ruminate before some semblance of coherent thought can be strung together. So, here I sit—two months post-read—hoping to express just how impressive I found this creative gem to be. If the fact that this book is still lingering in the forefront of my mind after so long—and a dozen other books in-between—isn’t a testament to John Boyne’s level of storytelling, I don’t know what is.

They say you should write for no other reason than because you love the craft. That freeing feeling of turning ideas into words driven by some internal passion; sharing your stories with no one or anyone a choice to consider later. The thought of being published—let alone fame—should be the furthest thing from your mind during the process. But what do they know anyway?

For Maurice Swift, fame packaged as The Prize is his ultimate literary goal. And he’s willing to go to just about any length to get what he wants. Sure, he tries his hand at writing the epic novel a few times, but there’s always one crucial obstacle he can’t seem to surmount—coming up with an idea creative enough to inspire a prize-winning story. Forget plotting, characterization or theme, it all centers around the idea and without it, there's no hope.

Although starting out on somewhat of an unassuming note, the storyline quickly takes a turn, morphing into something much darker. Picking up this book means surrendering to a master manipulator and his deviously deceptive antics. Without a doubt, Maurice is as despicable as they come. But, he’s also incredibly charming, ambitious as hell and handsome; which means it’s all too easy to succumb. Only to realize when it’s far too late that he’s stolen your words, your life, your very essence of being.

Set amongst the publishing world, Boyne gives readers a look at what the so-called ladder climb to the sky of literary success often entails. Boyne’s play on perspective, dark humor and the constant moral questioning the self-rationalizing protagonist manages to provoke, makes for an utterly engaging experience. Writing so lovely in fact, it reiterated why the written word has become such a passion in my own life.

*Thank you to Crown Publishing for sending a free copy of the book my way.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
November 16, 2022
In evolutionary biology, parasitism is a relationship between species, where one organism, the parasite, lives on or in another organism, the host, causing it some harm, and is adapted structurally to this way of life.[1] The entomologist E. O. Wilson has characterized parasites as "predators that eat prey in units of less than one" - Wikipedia
Well, sometimes a host gets to be an entire feast. Maurice Swift can be plenty charming, and he is quite something to look at, but he has issues with morality, and is possessed of a very considerable and toxic ambition. He wants to be a writer. Not just any writer. He wants to be a world-famous writer, winner of The Prize. And he does have talent. He can write. The only problem is that he is a form without substance. Maurice cannot, for the life of him, come up with any story ideas. Luckily for Maurice, the world is bubbling with such talents. It is left to Maurice to attach himself to those who are able to concoct stories, or even just recount good stories from real life, and drain what he can from them before casting aside their empty husks. We begin when young Maurice latches on to Erich Ackermann, an aging gay writer who has lived almost his entire life bereft of romance. Preying on Erich’s desperation, Swift slowly draws from the once top-tier talent a life story of unrequited love during the days of Hitler, and a heinous betrayal that has haunted Ackermann all his life.

John Boyne - image from The Guardian by Murdo Macleod

We get to see Maurice from the outside until the final part of the book, his marks telling us about their dealings with him. Of course, things are not entirely black and white. Yes, Maurice is awful, and he does seek to take undue advantage of those he targets, but his victims do not always enter into arrangements with Maurice with blinders on. The more experienced among them, at least, know that he is not exactly a choir boy, while recognizing that he could pretend to be one if they wanted him to. Most see that he means to feed on them, and are ok with that, up to a point, there being some give as well as take. Also, in addition to being a pretty awful specimen of humanity, one redeeming feature is that Maurice feels a great desire to be a father. Does this make him less sociopathic? It certainly seems out of the usual range for characters of this sort. And there must be a place inside us where we want Maurice to finally find his grail, without having to cosh Lancelot over the head to get it. Is Maurice a rake or a monster, or are both merely steps on a ladder?

Particularly wonderful among Maurice’s targets is a fictionalized Gore Vidal, the one person Maurice targets who sees right through him. The venom in this section is considerable and potent. You might want to wear the sort of disposable rain slicker they give people in the front few rows of Blue Man Group performances lest you find some spatters on exposed skin and are taken down several notches. Delicious fun.
…when I was writing this, I watched as many documentaries as I could. I wanted to capture his voice, and I felt that with somebody like that, because he was so sharp, so funny, and so clever, you've really got to raise your game. I felt very sure that Vidal would be the only person in the book who would see through Maurice and not be taken in by him. I worked very, very hard on that section and all of his lines to make sure that they sounded right, that if he was still with us and if he read it, he would feel that I haven't let him down. - from the Goodreads interview
Boyd does a wonderful job of ratcheting up tension, the same result, if not the kitsch, of the little child running back into room where a monster was last seen, to retrieve a favorite stuffy. “You idiot, don’t do it! Come back!” We can see the perils long before his marks do, and even get a pretty good idea of how Maurice is going about his crimes. And we wonder, just how long can this son of a bitch keep getting away with it? If you find this unrealistic, I would recommend for your consideration the question of why Donald J. Trump has not seen the inside of a jail cell for his lifetime of crimality. Sometimes monsters walk free regardless of what they have done.

Boyne, author of five novels for younger readers, including the wildly successful The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and eleven novels for adults (including this one), has been bringing more and more of his personal life into his books. His prior novel, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, looked at the life of a gay Irish man over the course of a lifetime. In A Ladder to the Sky, Boyne is looking at a millieu with which he is familiar, lit life, book tours, writers, and hangers-on, personalities, dreams, ambitions, and disappointments. Maurice was based on a part of that.
“He came from an experience I had a number of years ago with an aspiring writer who sort of attached himself to me,” he says. “We formed quite a strong friendship and it developed into an unhealthy situation. I was very drawn to this man. I’m no innocent in terms of how it all worked out. We were both maybe using each other slightly. The guy was aware of the fact that I’d a crush on him. I was just charmed to be around him. It eventually reached a point where I had to confront that. Not that I was interested in confronting him about it but confronting myself about why I was allowing myself to be manipulated.”from the Gilmartin interview
You can enjoy this novel on two levels. It is a something of a thriller, watching Maurice wend his way through serial victims. How far will he go, what will he do to achieve his ambitions? And what will he do to keep his true self hidden? On another level this is a wonderful satire on writers and writerly ambition, what they do to get ahead, the networking, light and dark, that fuels success.

Whatever elements touch you, we can certainly recognize, in Maurice and in Boyne’s other characters, a need for recognition, whether in the form of personal affection or public acclaim, regardless of the profession or sexual inclinations involved. A Ladder to the Sky is engaging, dark, and wickedly funny. While the rungs on Maurice’s ascent are sometimes too easily scaled, he does encounter the mis-step here and there. You, on the other hand, need have no such concern. Each step up will offer a wider and clearer view until you reach the top and see all. A Ladder to the Sky offers a rewarding vista. Enjoy the view.

Review first posted – November 16, 2018

Publication date – November 13, 2018

I received this book from Penguin Random House’s First To Read program in return for an honest review, well, at least one I wrote myself. Thankfully the FTR program does not require one to be the first to review. I noted at least 200 reviews already up by GR Friends, and god knows how many by people I have used and then ditched. I wrote this all myself, I swear. I absolutely did not scan through all those earlier reviews looking for (and purloining) the best ideas, swear to God.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and Instagram pages

-----The Irish Times - John Boyne: We formed a strong friendship, it developed into an unhealthy situation - by Sarah Gilmartin
-----Goodreads interview John Boyne Explores the Dark Side of Literary Ambition - by Catherine Elsworth
-----Publishers Weekly - Haggling for Fame: PW Talks with John Boyne - by Kelsey Gillespie Smith

Odd bits
-----A wiki on the many sorts of ladders there are
-----10 Writing Tips from John Boyne
-----My review of The Heart’s Invisible Furies
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,709 reviews25k followers
July 17, 2018
It is a story that is as old as time itself, common in our human history and a major source of inspiration for writers, producing great literature, from the likes of Shakespeare to Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley, the unleashing of a ferocious, power hungry ambition, nakedly unfettered, ruthless as it wreaks tragedy and destruction in its wake, doing whatever is deemed necessary to achieve the sought after obsessive dream. After the brilliance of The Heart's Invisible Furies, John Boyne gives us a mesmerising psychological drama, with its coldly manipulative and ambitious Maurice Swift, an adequate if mediocre writer but lacking the elusive inspirational spark that produces great novels, he is blessed with charisma and good looks. A sociopath, a man desperate enough to steal stories to succeed in his desire to win literary prizes, having no issues when it comes to betrayal of anyone, willing to sell his soul for literary worldly acclaim.

In a tale that begins in the 1980s through to the present, it shifts from Berlin and Europe, the US to Britain today, we follow Swift from his initial encounter with Cambridge academic and literary prize winner, novelist Erich Ackermann, whose past life story he exploits to gain his entry into the glittering world he so craves and his ensuing career and family. Will there be an accounting of his actions and behaviour? What I can say is that not everyone is taken in by his persona. With dark comic humour, Boyne once again demonstrates his ability to give us fascinating and gripping storytelling with a central character that rivals the great Tom Ripley, whilst pondering over the thorny issue of who owns stories. A brilliant read that I do not hesitate in recommending highly! Many thanks to Random House Transworld for an ARC.
Profile Image for Meredith (Trying to catch up!).
815 reviews12.7k followers
August 26, 2018

Meet Maurice Swift whose single purpose in life is to become a famous novelist. Beware: Maurice is a story thief. He will steal your stories, and, in essence, your soul.

Maurice will do whatever it takes to get to the top but he was one major problem standing in his way--he lacks creativity. While he can write, his stories are boring….Ever the resourceful one, Maurice uses his physical beauty and charm to leach onto famous writers, not to learn from them but rather to steal from them. Maurice is a story thief, he uses people for their ideas and throws them away when he gets what he needs. He sucks people’s souls right out from under them, draining them to the point where they have nothing left to offer the literary world.

It all begins in Berlin in 1980, when renowned novelist Erich Ackermann first spots Maurice working as a waiter at the Savoy. Drawn to Maurice’s beauty, Erich lures him into becoming his assistant and believes that they have a true connection. But their connection slowly crumbles, as Maurice is only using Erich for a story...and what a story he steals! This seems to be Maurice’s first act of destruction. When he is done with Erich, he simply discards him and moves onto his next victim doing ANYTHING, and I mean anything, to get the stories that he needs. Once he has achieved his first conquest, he continues to take and take and take. One wonders if all of his stealing will ever catch up with him.

Told in three parts by three different narrators, along with some interludes woven in, A Ladder to the Sky details Maurice’s rise to the top. I too was enthralled with Maurice. As much as I despised him, I was intrigued by him and couldn’t wait to see what he was going to do to keep his status. Maurice’s character is brilliantly crafted-- it was as if I was pulled into the pages by Maurice, even before I got to experience his voice, which says a lot about Boyne’s writing ability.

Boyne’s writing is top-notch. Intricately plotted, filled with sharp wit and multi-dimensional complex characters, I was completely riveted while reading this. I found A Ladder to the Sky to be an absurdly interesting critique on the literary world. While I had a sense of how things would turn out in the end for Maurice, I could not predict the lengths that he would go to keep his fame.

I loved every moment of this book. It’s not a happy story, but it certainly is an alluring one that got under my skin. This is by far the best book I have read in 2018--I finished it some time ago and still cannot stop thinking about it. I highly highly recommend!

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and Crown Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
September 13, 2019
”I was a good-looking boy and I brought him back to life. I may have taken advantage of his good nature, but why not? I flirted with him, made sure that I remained sexually ambiguous at all times. Always a possibility but never a certainty. I led him on to the point where he was so overwhelmed with desire that I think there was literally nothing he wouldn’t have done for me, had I asked. And then, when I got everything I needed from him, I wrote….”

What’s wrong with that?

Well, a lot, but then the world is full of givers and users, and sometimes the givers become users, and when circumstances become dire enough, even users can sometimes become givers. We all have users in our life, those people who always remind us of how good a friend we are when they need something, but when we need something in return, suddenly they are not as good a friend as they professed to be. Hopefully, none of you have a Maurice Swift in your life.

Other reviewers make comparisons with Patricia Highsmith novels, which is spot on, but Swift reminds me the most of the main character (I’d tell you his name, but part of the subterfuge of the novel is his identity) in A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. If you like novels involving sociopaths, who are infinitely fascinating because of their ability to walk among us and seem reasonably normal, then definitely put the Levin on your reading list.

Now the question becomes, as you get to know Swift, is he a more garden variety sociopath, or is he a full out psychopath?

The book explores the idea of harm, or should I say degrees of inflicted harm? Is stealing ideas really wrong? Does a man’s life story belong to him once he has told it to someone else? Is taking a good idea poorly written by another writer and turning it into a much better presented story really immoral? After all, isn’t the idea just lost in bad prose until someone, say a Maurice Swift, who is a good writer, can salvage it for literature?

Swift’s father is a plumber by trade, and the family intends for Maurice to be a plumber, as well. To them, writers only come from well-to-do families who can afford to give their offspring an Oxford level education. There is this great scene that, in varying degrees, plays out in families all over the world when a child comes to their parents and says I want to be a writer, painter, dancer, or musician. Mention any of those professions, and it will send a finger of fear down any middle class patriarch’s back. Swift makes the mistake of mentioning to his father D. H. Lawrence’s modest background before becoming a well respected author as an example that a plumber’s son, too, can become a writer.

”’That D. H. Lawrence only wrote filth,’ replied his father. ‘Naked men wrestling with each other and posh pieces having it off with the gamekeeper. Queer stuff, if you ask me. Written for poofters with fancy ideas. I’ll not have any of it in the house.’”

I think Dad might have a flair for writing himself. ”Posh pieces having it off with the gamekeeper.” It got me all tingly.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Maurice Swift, as the companion to yet another writer he is using to gain influence in the publishing industry, visits Gore Vidal. Now, Gore appreciates a chiseled pair of buttocks and a rigid, muscular stomach as much as the next gay man, but he is no one’s fool. His interactions with Swift are simply marvelous. The sexual teasing and charm that Swift has used so effectively on other male writers is more of an irritation to Gore, who may have seen some of himself in the foppish hair, good looks of Swift. (Of course, Gore had been better looking, whittier, and more elegant.).

”He felt a sudden desire to anger-fuck the boy, then toss him over the cliffs into the sea below, to watch as his body bounced off the rocks and his bones smashed into a thousand pieces.”

Goodness, now there is a frightening view of the mind of an aging man who finds the manipulations of youthful, mercenary exuberance to be something to shatter rather than preserve. Of course, if Swift had been more polished and less overtly, coldly calculating and had displayed more naive charm, then maybe he might have had more success lowering Gore’s defenses.

If Swift had been born with a creative mind, would he have been so feral in his interactions with his mentors, his “loved” ones, his proteges? If plot ideas were bubbling out of him like an erupting Vesuvius, would he have felt so much desperation? Is he willing to let himself become more psychopath than sociopath? I don’t think Swift would have ever been very likeable or a model of human behavior, but maybe if he had been blessed with an inventive well spring of a mind, his impact on those he associates with would be less catastrophic.

”’I suppose it’s difficult to talk about a work in progress. You never know who might steal your ideas.’” There is a reason why writers are careful about discussing plots or letting too many people read their work before it is finished. You don’t have to know someone like Maurice Swift to feel the need to be careful. I remember once in college I was writing some fiction for fun and someone I knew, with whom I shared it, took all the characters’ names in my story and used them in a story he was working on. It was really WEIRD. I kind of laughed it off, but at the same time I felt violated, like something had been stolen from me. He acted like it was no big deal.

Unbridled ambition can be a positive thing in the lives of those surrounding it, or it can be a fast moving car that leaves people it touches crushed, bereft, and walking down a lonely road, watching the taillights disappear over the horizon. This is a cautionary tale about the hazards of beauty without substance. Do not be fooled.

I can’t really imagine a serious reader or writer who would not like this book. Given the numerous points of potential discussion this novel provides, it would make a great book club book. How far would you go to be successful? You may not go as far as Maurice Swift, but what degree is acceptable? Maybe you will find out things about your book club members you never knew before!

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews599 followers
August 13, 2018
In the same way Vampires hunger for blood, protagonist *Maurice Swift*, hungers for stories. John Boyne has created a literary Vampire! Swift will trade stories for organisms. He’s not wired sexually like most men. He has no desire for sex - with either men or women. Sex is just one of his power tools to achieve his needs: STORIES! Maurice is a writer who can’t for the life of him think of a ‘story’ to write about. Yet - Maurice is driven - obsessed - nothing else matters He studies every review of every new book published looking for clues as to “how do authors come up with stories?”

As an extremely handsome man - which means little to Swift per say - he will show off his tight abs as seduction for a story - for a juicy secret - for a story to steal and make his own. Be it an author Maurice admires, a wife who can write brilliantly, a son who needs his help, Maurice will sell out everyone and anyone that gets in his way of success.
Swift’s goals in life were clear from a young age: to become a famous writer, popular with mainstream readers, and highly respected with the literary critics. He also wanted to be a father. Swift will eventually sell out himself in time too.
With no storytelling talent of his own, Maurice Swift, is one of the most famous names in the literary world.

I still vote, “The Heart’s Invisible Furies”, best book of 2017....

I vote *Maurice Swift* as the most fascinating character of the year....2018!!! He’s toxic...dangerous....evil....and incredibly scrumptiously unavoidably alluring!!!
Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,474 followers
January 23, 2020
"Ambition is putting a ladder to the sky."
—American proverb

Having fizzed like a seltzer all the way through John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, I already knew that I will happily read anything by this gifted author. Boyne has a rare gift that so many modern authors lack: the ability to create extraordinary characters who melt our hearts or rattle our cages.
This is a breathtaking story of dangerous infatuation and sociopathic ambition. And, in keeping with Boyne’s default modus operandi, there is a great deal of humour amid the spitefulness.
Erich Ackermann, a German author, has his consciousness stolen by Maurice Swift, a handsome bar waiter at the Savoy Hotel in Berlin. He becomes infatuated by this sexually ambiguous young man who just happens to be a wannabe writer.
And so the scene is set for a tale of deviousness and cunning on a scale that Shakespeare himself would have been proud of. Unfortunately for naïve, vulnerable Erich, Maurice is a fame-hungry manipulative narcissist who would happily sell his grandmother to further his ambition.
On a completely separate note, it pleased me no end that the second part of the story moved on to my home city of Norwich. Hurrah!

Maurice’s deviousness is so deliciously realised that you are entirely drawn in, as if he was someone you knew in real life. You can anticipate his cunning plans a mile off but are nevertheless powerless to warn his victims. I even set my book down and swore at him at one point: "You utter bastard!" I shouted into thin air. I guarantee that you will do the same.
Despite being a total and utter bastard (I said it again), Maurice is one of the greatest characters conceived in recent times; the complete antithesis to honourable Count Alexander Rostov, from A Gentleman in Moscow, who is also one of the greatest characters in modern literature.
He will turn your knuckles white as you grip your paperback or Kindle, and you will spend most of the journey hoping that the snake will get his comeuppance.
And did he?
I couldn’t possibly say.

In my humble opinion, this book cannot be deserving of anything other than a five-star rating, and all of those sterile authors out there need to raise their game!
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,513 reviews29.4k followers
August 9, 2018

When you get ready to read a book by an author whose two previous books wound up at the top of your year-end best lists (and they're truly among some of the best books you've read, at least in the last decade), you get a little nervous whether lightning will strike thrice, or whether you're putting too much pressure on the book. (I am the one who has preached measured expectations when reading new books by favorite authors, because each new book deserves to be weighed on its own merit, not compared to others the author has written.)

All that being said, John Boyne, author of The Absolutist (see my review) and The Heart's Invisible Furies (see my review), has done it again. He has created an unsympathetic, morally dubious character who is utterly unforgettable, and has slayed me in the process.

Maurice Swift is a handsome young writer with a tremendous amount of ambition, but he lacks the talent to back it up. No matter. When he meets noted novelist Erich Ackermann at a West Berlin hotel in 1988, he immediately recognizes that the older man is attracted to him. Ackermann is desperately lonely, and is energized by Maurice's companionship, so he invites the young man to travel with him around the world to participate in different literary events.

Maurice uses his sex appeal, and the tantalizing promise of giving Ackermann more of him, to encourage the writer to divulge a secret he has long kept hidden from the world, a secret with potentially damaging consequences if it is discovered, despite the fact that it happened when Ackermann was a teenager in the midst of World War II. Maurice realizes this story will be the perfect basis for his first novel, so once he gets what he needs from the man, he's ready to move on—and he doesn't seem to care what it does to Ackermann, or his career.

But once Maurice gets a taste of literary fame, he can't imagine life without it. After an encounter with famed writer Gore Vidal which makes him uncertain of how far his looks can help him succeed, he moves from literary circle to literary circle, from the U.S. to London and all over the world, in search of his next opportunity. And as he moves through his life, the stakes get higher and higher—until there's nothing he won't do for fame—but is a life alone worth the acclaim of success?

Although there are similarities to The Talented Mr. Ripley, A Ladder to the Sky is a novel all its own. Maurice is an utterly amoral character, and as much as you dislike him, you have to admire his cunning, his ambition, his single-minded pursuit of fame. We've seen this story before, but in Boyne's hands the suspense crackles, the longing of those Maurice strings along is tremendously affecting, and you can't wait to see whether he'll get his comeuppance.

Boyne throws some surprising twists into the plot, and takes the story to a different level. He's one of those storytellers that hooks you from the very start, and keeps you engrossed in the plot from start to finish. While his last two novels have remained in my mind because of the way they touched my heart, A Ladder to the Sky will stay in my mind because of Maurice Swift's character and his unbridled ambition.

NetGalley and Crown Publishing provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com, or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2018/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2017.html.
Profile Image for Peter.
472 reviews2,555 followers
January 25, 2020
An amazing literary work immersed in ambition, infatuation, betrayal and narcissism. John Boyne skillfully develops a character, Maurice Swift, who has an obsessive ambition to be a famous and accomplished author, with massive commercial and literary glory. The problem is that while he can form sentences with an acceptable level of skill, he possesses no imagination. With this lack of creativity, he cynically hunts and forages for ideas and plots for his novel. The fascination with Maurice is that he is an extremely handsome man, and he will use his physical appeal and charisma in his unscrupulous parasitic strategy to glean as much material from other writers or publishers as possible.

Erich Ackermann is an author that has had a series of unsuccessful books but finally receives recognition as a prize winner. He is the first narrator of the novel and meets Maurice as a waiter in a restaurant and later invites Maurice on his US & European book tour. Erich’s infatuation with Maurice is his weakness, and he recognises it.
“Sitting there that day on a bench in the Caffarella Park, this twenty-two-year-old boy made me long to reveal my secrets in the most self-destructive way imaginable. I wanted to confide in him, to tell him my story.”
The story Erich tells Maurice, in private, is about his young adulthood in Germany just before the second world war, where he meets Oskar Gött, and is captivated by this young man. Their friendship grows with Erich developing deeper feelings for Oskar and they become more and more aware of secrets they each harbour, including their views of the Nazi’s, their Jewish ancestry, their love of prohibited art and of course, Erich’s homosexuality. When it’s revealed that Oskar has a girlfriend he has fallen in love with, Erich is spiteful, having previously out of pure jealousy, discredited his nude painting of her, as vulgar and mediocre. The unbeloved Erich reacts to their leaving Germany in an atrocious fashion. All this becomes the subject of Maurice's first book 'Two Germans'.

During Maurice’s travels with Erich, he meets Dash Hardy, who is to become the next obsequious victim of Maurice’s charms and the source of his next feeding ground. You can see in the pointed dialogue and interaction between Maurice and his ‘mentors’ the subtle swing from his position as protégé to a more dominant role as his mentors become less and less useful. “But once I had what I needed, why would I have stuck around?” Maurice will undertake this Machiavellian approach several times, cultivating relationships for his own gain, including a marriage to Edith with a son Daniel. However, as time passes, looks fade, and the carnage becomes apparent in the rearview mirror, the carnage that may be exposed.

John Boyne has this exceptional ability to place words on a page with such soul and meaning, that immediately you're immersed in a delicately unwinding story. Nothing is forced or convoluted and everything flows naturally. The characters are developed with marvellous believability whilst illustrating intriguing relationships and entertaining dialogue. The dialogue provides so much animation, conveying that touch of humour, irony or jealousy, or sexual teasing.

An amazing book with a wonderful engrossing storyline, characterisation and dialogue. A book that is totally captivating and a literary masterpiece. I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers and NetGalley, for an ARC version of ‘A Ladder to the Sky’ in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,419 reviews35.2k followers
September 29, 2018

John Boyne keeps getting better and better! Each time he writes a book, he tops his last. A ladder to the Sky has done just that. This book is beautifully written, tragic, compelling and hard to put down. Boyne has given me a character that I love to hate. Maurice Swift is so deliciously "amoral". Maurice is willing to do whatever it takes to be a bestselling Author. Armed with his youth and beauty, he sets out to achieve his goals, no looking back, no remorse and feeling justified with his actions. He uses what he has to his advantage all the while using the talent of others to further his own career. He takes what he can and moves on. He is ambitious, cunning, calculating, arrogant, and manipulative.

As the book progresses, the reader watches/reads as Maurice moves from one person to the next, using that person, until that individual has nothing else to give and/or Maurice feels he has taken all he can. He will stop at nothing to succeed even if it means destroying lives, ruining careers or worse!

I enjoyed how this book delves into "ownership" There is plagiarism and then there is re-writing someone's work and telling someone's life events. For instance, if someone tells you about a specific time in his/her life and you write about it - have you stolen from them or just profited off their "story”? To what lengths will someone go to achieve success?

"When the gods with to punish us, they answer our prayers."

This book is not only a character study of the main character, Maurice, but to a small degree on the many people in his life. Erich and Dash both came to realize that they were being used and both allowed it for his own reasons. How incredibly sad is it when one knows they are being used and they allow it with the hope of love or companionship. There were the tragic figures who were used by Maurice and had no idea until it was too late. On the other hand, I absolutely loved the passages with Gore. It was nice to see a character who saw right through him and called him on the carpet. Those sections were bliss for me.

This was a very enjoyable read which provides the reader with many characters POV and ending with Maurice's. Will he ever stop in his quest for glory? What happens when you lose your youth and beauty? Will Maurice ever meet his match? Is there a price to be paid for ambition?

Highly recommend!

Thank you to Crown Publishing and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Read more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com
Profile Image for Tammy.
523 reviews438 followers
October 29, 2018
Dark and delectable, Boyne’s latest novel is compulsively readable. Maurice has one consuming desire and that is to be a wildly successful writer. Although he is able to craft sentences, he lacks the other critical element crucial to achieving his goal: imagination. What’s a poor boy to do? Well, he uses his physical beauty and manipulative charm to glom onto those who are in a position to help him. Maurice leapfrogs from person to person as he purloins stories and leaves wreckage in his wake. Gore Vidal narrates one section and is too sharp (or too jaded) to succumb to Maurice’s machinations. Much like the Talented Mr. Ripley you must continue to read to find out what reprehensible Maurice will do next or if he ever meets his match. Yes, this is a novel about ambition but Boyne’s mockery of the publishing world, its inhabitants and preoccupation with prizes is good fun too.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,143 reviews2,760 followers
October 28, 2018

What a fascinating premise. Maurice is a con and a scammer. He lacks imagination but not ambition. He wants to be a successful writer at all costs.

The book starts with Erich, an aging author, finally finding fame in his sixties. He falls for Maurice, who sees potential in playing to Erich’s infatuation. He steals Erich’s story of himself as a young man in Nazi Germany. And this is not a story that paints Erich in a positive light. Each segment gives us another step in Maurice’s trip up the ladder; another person misused and abused.

This book just immediately gripped me. Maurice is truly a trip and a half. The mind games he plays with Edith had me dropping my jaw at the audacity. His willingness to use everyone who can further his ascent is admirable in its pure evilness. He is literally deliciously despicable. I have a huge fascination with psychopaths and Maurice totally fits the bill.

I spent the entire book waiting and hoping for Maurice to get his comeuppance. But I’m obviously not going to give away that spoiler.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough for those that can handle horrible main characters. I’m adding this to my list of best of 2018.

My thanks to netgalley and Crown Publishing for an advance copy of this book.

Profile Image for Paula K .
435 reviews417 followers
March 24, 2019
Irish author John Boyne has written a masterpiece. A Ladder to the Sky is brilliant!

Maurice Swift, is a so-so author who wants to succeed as a writer. It’s his lifetime ambition, and he doesn’t care how he gets there. Beautiful, charming, and ruthless, Maurice can’t come up with his own stories so he steals them. His first victim is Erich Ackermann who has received some literary fame. After using Erich’s personal story and destroying him, Maurice climbs the ladder to the more powerful. Maurice is a user. He is a sociopath and watch out if you get in his way!

Boyne’s novel is about obsession, betrayal, and relationships’ secrets. The dialogue is superb. The book’s character development is excellent.

Read this book. You will never forget it! One of the best I have read this year!

5 out of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley, Crown Publishing, and the wonderfully talented John Boyne for the ARC.

Publication date - November 13, 2018.
Profile Image for Susanne.
1,168 reviews37.3k followers
November 23, 2018
4.5 Stars* (rounded down)

Proof Positive that an author can write a novel with a truly despicable main character (and some less than likeable supporting characters) and still write a brilliant novel! All it takes is a fantastic storyteller. John Boyne is that man.

When I read “The Hearts Invisible Furies” last year I fell in love. With both Cyril Avery - the main character, and with John Boyne. Prior to that, I’d only known Boyne through the movie “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” “A Ladder in the Sky” showed me just how dynamic John Boyne is. All I can say is bravo.

In “A Ladder to the Sky” he writes of Maurice Swift a man who wants to be a successful writer. He needs it more than anything else in this world. Maurice is a man who will stop at nothing to get it. The problem is simply that he lacks ideas. He cannot come up with one iota to write about. He does however have a plan on how to write successful novels, he either steals other people’s ideas or their books and he writes them as if they are his own and he gets away with it! Bold, right? Wrong, yes? Not to Maurice!

Shown to us through the eyes of many, we see a few different sides to Maurice Swift and none are pretty. First up, is Erich Ackermann, a successful novelist in his own right, whose life Maurice all but destroys; then we meet Edith, who becomes Maurice’s wife - she of course fares no better; then, we meet Maurice himself. The things he does to become successful are outrageous! I laughed and then I shrieked out loud. Though I immediately despised him, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by his machinations, Tsk tsk, Maurice - have you no soul? Oh right, I know the answer to that question.

“A Ladder in the Sky” is a masterpiece plain and simple and I can’t recommend it highly enough. For me, it falls a tiny bit short of “The Hearts Invisible Furies” simply because I loved those characters with my whole heart. The bottom line however is this: John Boyne is brilliant and commanding. To create a character as real and unappealing as Maurice Swift is a feat most authors are unable to achieve and here, the author does it with ease.

A huge thank you to NetGalley, Crown Publishing and John Boyne for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Published on Goodreads, NetGalley, Amazon, Twitter and Instagram on 11.23.18.

Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,191 followers
November 17, 2018
3.5 stars

What do you do when you have the blind ambition to be a writer and while you can write, you just don’t have a creative idea in you ? If you are the unscrupulous, narcissistic, slime ball named Maurice Swift - you do anything that it takes - steal their stories and their books and ruin their lives. I wasn’t going to read this, but 33 trusted GR friends gave it 5 stars and more than a handful gave it 4 stars so how could I resist? Besides, I really enjoy Boyne’s writing and I loved his last book. So I read this more out of curiosity than anything else wondering what my thoughts would be because I don’t usually like books where the main character is as despicable as Maurice. Bottom line is that I couldn’t stand him and what he does and more than once I almost gave up, in particular after the middle section. I continued reading because I hoped with every page that he would get his. I’m not going to spoil this for anyone who hasn’t read this yet. You’ll have to find out for yourself.

The writing is as good as it always is in a book by Boyne. The characterization is phenomenal not just of Maurice, but of Erich Ackermann and Dash Hardy, two men who are pathetically obsessed with Maurice and who fall prey to his devious schemes. My favorite character and perhaps the only one I felt anything for is his wife Edith who definitely “falls” prey to Maurice. I also was heartbroken for his son, Daniel. My favorite part of the novel was the clever conversation and interaction between Gore Vidal and Maurice. The discussions about who owns the ideas for a book in various places in the novel were food for thought . I got through it in spite of my aversion, dare I say hate of Maurice, mainly because of Boyne’s writing. For that, I’ll have to bump up to 4 stars.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Hogarth/Crown through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,781 reviews14.2k followers
September 25, 2018
Boynes, Hearts Invisible Furies turned out to be my favorite book of last year. In that one he gave me a character I absolutely loved, in this one he does the opposite. Here, he gives us a character one loves to hate, a young man devoid of any redeeming characteristics. Maurice Swift, a man who thinks that anything he does is justified. Nothing is his fault.

Now I am the type of reader who enjoys being given a character who tugs at my heart, someone in which I can hope for, cherish. But....I also say if you can't give me that, then give me some stellar prose, or a plot that is intriguing, pulls me into the story. And.....yes that is definitely the case here, this plot pulled me in, like watching a train wreck I couldn't pull away. Can beauty alone, present a blind that allows one to excuse another's actions? Do those who are extremely good looking have an unfair advantage, treated differently than those who do not? Apparently so. This is a book where it would be so easy to give away part of the plot, so I will stop here. The less said the better in this case.

Boyne, to me is an amazing writer. He writes so many different types of books, but though I have not yet read all of his, the ones I have, did not let me down. I look forward to seeing where he takes me next.

ARC from bookbrowse.
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
903 reviews1,816 followers
December 2, 2018
Maurice smiled. 'Stealing is very bad,' he agreed. 'Only really bad people take things that don't belong to you.'

So Maurice was an aspiring writer when he first met the famous author Erich Ackermann. Young, beautiful, and a charm that was hard to ignore, Maurice was aware of all this about himself. Poor old Erich didn't know that he was being until it was too late. Living mostly by himself all his life Ackermann fell hard for Maurice and paid the price. Maurice extracted a dark secret from Ackermann which old man would be so ashamed of telling anyone and yet he lost the battle when Maurice started giving him a cold shoulder. So to keep Maurice tied to him Ackermann told him a story from his past that was his most ugliest secret. Our aspiring writing remains with him for the story but leaves him as soon as he got this tale. While this dark tale was rise of one man, it was also the downfall of other.

And this is just one of the story that Boyne told us about Maurice's rise and rise to the fame. There are many other and one more chilling than the other. What this book is about, the blurb tells us everything. On the surface it is just a story of a leach who live off on others. Just sucking stories from them instead of blood. I would have given it a pass had I not read Heart's Invisible Furies. I knew there would be much more to this story than stealing and Boyne did not disappoint. In Maurice he gave us a deeply flawed human being who would do anything to succeed and won't regret his actions because in his mind he was right to do what he did.

Boyne through this story shows us the competitive, hungry for success, moral-less world that we are living in. Everyone wants to be on top and doing things to achieve that aim, without giving a second thought to how our action would effect others. It is a race where everyone wants to be a winner. A second or a third place are not good enough. This story also reflects on how the writing and publishing works. You could be a star, publicly appraised and but also can't deny the contempt of your contemporaries, calling you names when you are not around.

It is a stunning story with a twisted and a very cunning character at its center. Love him or hate him but you won't stop until you know where he ends up in with all the atrocities that he has committed in his life.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Felicia.
254 reviews942 followers
August 3, 2018
John Boyne could write a 500 page play-by-play account of the sleeping habits of the maned three-toed sloth that inhabits the Atlantic Forest of Brazil using only words that start with the letter Q and I have no doubt that it would be anything less than a compelling example of literary excellence.

As is the norm in Boyne's stories, this book features a captivating protagonist, this time his name is Maurice Swift, a narcissist and quite possibly a psychopath, as such, he is a man willing to go to any lengths required to achieve his goal of becoming the most famous fiction writer in the world. You see, while Maurice is indeed an incredible writer, he lacks one important prerequisite for attaining the notoriety he so desperately seeks, he can't come up with an interesting plot to save his life. Being devoid of imagination, Maurice resorts to using the stories of others to achieve his goal, with no remorse for the lives he destroys along the way, and ultimately, including his own.

I dare say that nobody develops a character as intimately as Boyne. His protagonists are invariably so believable and relatable that you often feel like you are reading a biography rather than a novel. If you've never had the pleasure of reading a book by John Boyne, I cannot recommend enough that you remedy that situation immediately while you await the release of this gem. He is, arguably, the best writer of his (and mine) generation and certainly my favorite.

I was provided an ARC of this book by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
May 29, 2019
my 11th grade english teacher instilled the fear of god in me when it came to plagiarism. he hounded us every day that plagiarism is the most horrific sin a person could ever commit. i was absolutely terrified of every essay i submitted; petrified that, by some ill-fated coincidence, my combination of words would resemble someone elses. i had nightmares that i would be thrown in jail or, worse, receive a failing grade. so the fact that this story is about a man who writes novels using other peoples ideas made me so very uncomfortable, to the point of feeling ill. so thanks for the PTSD, mr. tidwell!

but for me to inhale this story, even when it made me uncomfortable, is just a testament to the genius storytelling of john boyne. by this point, i am running out of words to praise and adore him. but he brings to life this character, a man with questionable morals and ruthless ambition, and makes me so invested in him. with clever cunningness and masterful manipulation, maurice swift is not necessarily a character i like, but one i am helplessly drawn to.

i have never read an author with such a skill for perfectly writing imperfect people, and this story has only affirmed my belief that john boynes books will consistently be read for years to come. they are modern marvels that will some day be classics.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Beata.
755 reviews1,157 followers
January 27, 2019
I've been following John Boyne for some years now, and I always find his novels interesting, I just like the themes and his writing style. A Ladder to the Sky is an absolutely perfect novel since I loved the book and loathed Maurice Swift. How can that be?? I have no idea but not many books have recently generated this combination during my reading experience. Boyne takes us on a tour around the literary world and shows its bitter side.
Profile Image for Kimber Silver.
Author 1 book265 followers
June 18, 2023
"Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them." —Napoleon Bonaparte

I have to tip my hat to John Boyne. He has woven a deliciously wicked web in A Ladder to the Sky. To conceive such a vile, soulless man and then to place him as the main character from which all evil flows is a risk to be sure but it worked. Oh yes, it worked like a charm! I absolutely couldn't put it down, not for long anyway.

The thrill of this yarn from the beginning was undeniable. Akin to hurtling down a mountain at breakneck speed, I peered over the rocky ledge into the pit and enjoyed the rush. For me, not knowing who the bad guy was when I began to read was part of the thrill, so I shan't spoil that revelation for anyone who doesn't already know. As a service announcement, I caution reading this one in public because I cursed and slammed the book shut so many times that I lost count. I couldn't believe what this psycho was doing. I railed against his heinous acts and swore off reading more. I think fire shot from my eyes at one point. I was appalled and entranced in equal measure always coming back because I was utterly captivated.

The tale is not wholly about a crazed ambitious wannabe writer who rolls along like a Sherman tank leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. The novel is also interspersed with love and friendship. It holds significant moments of joy and humor with a cast of good folks that make this world a better place. The writing is on point, and I honestly can't find a thing not to like about this book. Boyne has written the baddie to end all baddies, and I loved it!
Profile Image for Debbie.
454 reviews2,894 followers
September 12, 2018
Grabbed my pogo stick at Part 2 and kept on hopping...

This is so weird. I vigorously hated Part 1, yet I just as vigorously gave the book 5 stars. What’s up with THAT? The book starts with an old writer man lusting over a young writer man who will stop at nothing to get ahead. Scathing conversations, immoral acts, a cynical vibe, just nasty people doing and saying nasty things to each other in the publishing world—it was all just too depressing and dark. I realized, hey, I don’t want to be around these people, really, I don’t—get me out of here, now! Life is too short to be reading a book that makes me hate the human race.

So as I started Part 2, I was thinking of ditching the book. I especially didn’t like feeling this way because Boyne had wowed me with The Heart's Invisible Furies and I was expecting to be wowed again. I trudged on nervously. To my relief, Part 2: A whole different story, whole different tone. Even a different narrator. I got pulled in, and pulled in good. And for the rest of the book I was a goner.

In Part 2, it soon becomes clear that the main character of the book is the douche bag from Part 1—the young guy, Maurice, who will stop at nothing to get to the top. And it’s here that the genre sort of changes. I’m not going to explain because I don’t want to give spoilers, but believe me when I say I just wasn’t expecting THAT to happen. I headed right to the closet to grab my pogo stick, because, well, it was time.

This book is basically a character study of Maurice, who is one sick puppy. He is brilliantly put together. There are a couple of narrators so we get to see him from different perspectives. He is eternally despicable but intriguing as hell. With every new phase of his life, we cringe as we see what he is capable of. Talk about no moral compass. He wants to be a famous writer, period. He destroys lives without a second’s remorse. We desperately want him to get his, but will he? How can they possibly catch him? Because really, he is awfully good at what he does.

The thing about Boyne is that he doesn’t let up. The pace is perfect, the plot intriguing, the characters vivid, the language fantastic. The last quarter of the book is especially brilliant. It was edge-of-my-seat time. I think this would make a fantastic movie.

Oh, and the dialogue—wow! I love talky books, and this book is chatty cathy. Occasionally, the conversations seemed a little over the top and unbelievable, but they were so brilliant I didn’t care. They were like the zingers we spout in our heads after we’ve safely left a bad conversation. I wish I had said THAT, we think. Why did I freeze? So by reading the dialogue here, I was sometimes getting vicarious thrills.

Here’s the weird thing: Just now I went back to Part 1. Lo and behold, nothing seemed offensive, nothing made me feel awful! The text was simply doing its job of setting up a good story; it wasn’t torturing me with its cynical tone. How can that be? I think it’s that Boyne is a magician. The good taste of the rest of the book not just made me forget the bad taste of Part 1, it permanently took it away! Now that’s magical storytelling!

I love books about writers, and I love it when craft and style are touched upon, which they are here. The publishing world in this book is not a world anyone would want to live in, though; it’s painted as one scary place. Here we have crimes, back-biting, meanness, plagiarism, the worst of networking. Makes you shiver. Could anything like this happen in real life? Maurice is extreme, sure, but do some of his tamer actions mimic what happens in real life? God I hope not. Writers who are paranoid about people stealing their work should not read this!

There’s one small editing nit that bugged me. Within a few pages, a character mentioned the age of a kid twice to the same person. Super minor, but the editor gets a D for missing this one.

This book reminds me a bit of Dear Mr. M, by Herman Koch, a favorite author of mine. Both books have a complex writer as the main character, and both have cynical and sinister tones; even the writing styles seem a little similar. And strangely, this book has the same exact theme as a great little short story I read earlier this year—My Purple Scented Novel, by Ian McEwan (another favorite author).

Get your hands on this gem. Expect an unforgettable, despicable character and tons of smart dialogue. Boyne writes with such ease and art, I found it impossible not to be totally immersed in this story. I can honestly say that not one sentence bored me and not one conversation was uninteresting. So hell yes, I grabbed my pogo stick at Part 2 and kept right on going. What a trip it was!

Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy.
March 16, 2019
There’s a proverb that says ambition “is like putting a ladder against the sky. It’s a pointless waste of energy."

Told in three parts, this book shows the complete degradation of a person when blind ambition is coupled with psychopathic tendencies. An author must be a keen observer of people and events. They can take a nugget of an idea, then use their imagination to turn it into a story.  But what happens when the only person you are interested in is yourself? When your interest in people is only a means to an end? When you are a parasite, an empty shell of a man, without an original idea in your head? How far will you go when your only goal in life is to become a celebrated novelist?

I won’t give away the plot because it would ruin the delicious surprises in store for the reader. The writing is stellar, and the character development is excellent. Be prepared to be in the hands of a master wordsmith as you read this book. Be patient as you read, and be prepared to be shocked. The ending was simply brilliant.

I was left wondering if John Boyne is poking fun at himself and his fellow authors. Is Maurice a composite of authors he has known? Did he start out poking a little fun at himself and other authors, then took the character of Maurice to the extreme? Know going into it that if you need your fictional characters to be sympathetic or likable, this isn’t the book for you.

This was my first Boyne book but his book, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, is on my bookshelf and just made it to the top of my short list of books to be read.

My recommendation: Read it! It would make a great book club book with much to discuss.

*I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
* to be published November 13, 2018
* Thanks to the Traveling Sisters who joined me in reading and discussing this book.
Profile Image for Lindsay L.
679 reviews1,322 followers
December 27, 2018
4 stars!

Maurice - you conniving, selfish scoundrel! Never have I ever been so intrigued by such a nasty and repulsive main character. Wow!

This novel follows Maurice Swift in his rise to fame. We are introduced to Maurice as a handsome young man whose goal in life is to become a famous writer. He will stop at nothing to get ahead, latching on to countless people to use them for all he can get. As the story progresses, we witness just how greedy, manipulative and destructive he can be.

This story is unpredictable, outrageous, fascinating and jaw-dropping. I felt like I was in a constant state of shock, never knowing what to anticipate next. The author, John Boyne, has such a unique and enthralling way with words. He created a highly unlikeable main character with such an addictive and engrossing storyline that you can’t help but be intrigued and curious throughout. The writing is brilliant, the characters are unforgettable, the storyline is unique and shocking.

This is my second novel by John Boyne and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend checking out this book and author!

Thank you to NetGalley, Crown Publishing and John Boyne for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

A Ladder To The Sky is available now!
Profile Image for Candi.
622 reviews4,715 followers
January 19, 2019
3.5 stars

"I’m going to be the greatest novelist of my generation."

In The Heart's Invisible Furies I couldn’t help but feel affection towards Cyril Avery, quirks and all. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but who is? In this novel, John Boyne has managed to create a character with absolutely no redeeming qualities! Well, okay, Maurice Swift may have been devastatingly handsome, but that is neither here nor there. This guy is the ultimate creep! His single-minded ambition to write and be famous drove every single action of his life. Maurice is so despicable that (do I dare say) he’s not really all that interesting… not even close to Tom Ripley from Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley (who somehow managed to make me nearly side with him and question my own sanity!). Maurice is like a conglomerate of all the bad guys from literature combined into one. Now, Gore Vidal, who makes a cameo appearance in this book, is a ‘character’ (as drawn by Boyne) that I could really believe. He may have been an arrogant so-and-so, but he has some depth and it works! I loved the scenes between Gore and Maurice; personally, they made the book for me. Gore is no fool and he sees right through Maurice.

"There are people who will sacrifice anyone and anything to get ahead, after all. They’re rather easy to spot if you know the signs to watch out for… Not you, dear boy. I’m sure you’re a fellow of great integrity."

Poor Maurice. There is one problem keeping him from his goal of becoming a renowned novelist. He has no ideas. He simply can’t come up with his own plot for a book. "I feel like all the stories in the universe have already been told." However, obstacles are meant to be surmounted, and a good measure of sex appeal combined with a heavy dose of manipulation will carry you far. And as Gore Vidal predicts: "I don’t doubt it for a moment. The boy will be an extraordinary success." Maurice is much like a catastrophic hurricane, destroying everyone and everything in his path.

So, although I missed that ‘love to hate’ feeling with regards to Maurice, this book is admittedly unputdownable. John Boyne is not lacking in ideas for plot. The story will grab your attention and hold you throughout. Mostly, you’ll be crossing your fingers that Maurice will get what is coming to him. After all, what goes around comes around, right? You’ll have to read this and find out.

I recommend this to fans of John Boyne. I can’t say I liked it as much as the last, The Heart's Invisible Furies, but no doubt it’s quite entertaining. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

"There can be no discussion of morality when it comes to art. A writer must tell the story that captures his soul."

"But do novels really belong to any of us? Other than to readers, I mean? It’s an interesting question, don’t you think?"
Profile Image for Brandice.
911 reviews
February 1, 2019
Intriguing, disturbing and mesmerizing! These are the top 3 words that come to mind to describe the ride that is A Ladder to the Sky. The main character, Maurice, is truly a terrible human being yet the story was fascinating and I could barely stop reading, eager to see what his next move would be and how everything would play out.

This was a buddy read with my friend Cody (his review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). As an avid reader, I enjoyed the many elements in the book related to reading and of course, writing.

Maurice is a young man desperate to become a great writer. He knows no bounds and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. He is not, however, loud, brash, or obvious about it. A Ladder to the Sky follows the course of Maurice’s life in his continuous quest to achieve this, his greatest goal.

A Ladder to the Sky is told from various viewpoints and while I enjoyed each one, I felt they built up as the book progressed, each portion of the story more intense than the previous one. I can’t imagine having so few morals, and not feeling remorse for my actions - not in one isolated incident either, but over and over again.

At one point in the book, Maurice is described as an “arch-manipulator and impossibly calculating”. I couldn’t agree more. His deceit was constant yet subtle. As a result of his actions, Maurice was easy to dislike but I remained intrigued, curious to see what his next move would be.

”Everyone has secrets. There’s something in all our pasts that we wouldn’t want to be revealed. Look around the foyer the next time you’re there and ask yourself, What would each of these people prefer that I didn’t know about them? And that’s where you’ll find your story.”

Highly recommend this clever, dark and intense story!
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,155 followers
August 21, 2018
Oh Yes. Another 5 Star Winner!

Oh the power of beauty....and John Boyne's addictive writing....once again!

Meet Maurice Swift....you won't forget him! He wants to be a famous author. He's just a young man of 17 when first introduced, but is already hungry for attention and fame from the literary world. AND, oh yeah, he is a downright heart throbbing, mesmerizing beauty of a man....desired by both species....and dam well knows it!

As this bloodsucking worm of a human being manipulates his way throughout his sorry life to get what he wants, many lives are ruined, devastating secrets revealed and horrors committed for the purpose of self-achievement. HE WILL DO ANYTHING! LIE, CHEAT, STEAL, BETRAY....and WORSE! I once watched a movie (with Julia Roberts) where she said she was lower than pond scum, and her cohort said she was WORSE....she was the pus that infects the mucus that feeds on the pond scum....or something like that. Well, Maurice is even WORSE than that.....MUCH WORSE!

A LADDER TO THE SKY is a shocking and sad story with many dark moments, but oh the writing and oh the characters. My gosh, what Rebecca does, and poor Erich, what he did as a young teen was indeed horiffic, but I admit to feeling a bit sorry for him as an old man.

As the story moves along, the reader can feel what's coming as Maurice becomes the very WORST of himself....over and over. But then we have the policewoman scene. The dialogue here absolutely cracked me up!

And I must at least mention Theo and his thesis.....HA! And oh boy the ending......No. No. No. No. No. No. No. It just can't be!

Boyne's THE HEARTS INVISIBLE FURIES was by far my 2017 favorite read. Will A LADDER TO THE SKY be my No. 1 for 2018? Only four months to go!

Many thanks to Crown Publishing via NetGalley for the arc COMING NOVEMBER 13, 2018!

January 15, 2019

I am probably one of the only readers on this site that hasn’t read John Royne before. This was a Traveling Sister read and I thank them for bringing this book to my attention.

This book is about writers, the publishing industry, how different people get their ideas to write a novel,etc, but it revolves steadily around the main character Maurice. We are taken back to 1988 Berlin where an illustrious and recently well published author, Erich Ackermann is eating at a restaurant and can’t take his eyes off of a particular waiter, we later find out this is Maurice Swift. Erich is a homosexual who hasn’t had any physical relationships since he was young and apparently Maurice is extremely handsome. Erich is so entranced with Maurice from the start that he asks him to travel with him on his book tour through Europe and Maurice accepts.

Erich is no match for the manipulating, seducing Maurice who remains just out of reach physically to pretty much drive Erich crazy. After the book tours are completed Maurice leaves Erich, he has gotten all he wants from Erich, basically his life story which he will turn into a well received novel.
Next is Dash a much published author though some question his ability, whom he has met through Erich, he is also very attracted to Maurice is a homosexual and they do have a relationship, starting with Dash being a mentor to Erich until he is like a begging dog, completely manipulated by Maurice, it is not a pleasant thing to read about. Are there really that many people out there that would give away their stories or ideas over an infatuation with a young man? Is the author telling us through this story that there are a lot of homosexuals in the writing field, which I have no problem with but am just interested if this is his intent.

Maurice himself is a writing machine. He knows the mechanics of writing and how to add to an exciting story once he has been given an idea, he basically has no imagination, another trait of sociopaths. He cares not a bit if he hurts anyone psychologically or physically in the process. Maybe some of you have encountered the type in the workplace, after all the “Ladder to the Sky” could be many professions besides writing, it could be banking, law, retail etc. Maurice really is a sociopath, maybe a psychopath if his actions really killed someone.

I felt as though the book lagged a bit in the middle, when the second narrator was introduced. For quite a while we don’t even know who this person is until her life and relationship with Maurice are revealed. This is Edith, a fantastic but insecure writer who has married Maurice. Two of Maurice’s goals in life are to be a well reputed writer and to be a father, thus the marriage as Maurice has no real love for anyone. Edith will become another of Maurice’s targets, this one much worse than the last.

The story goes on and has three basic points of view but with some interchanging at times. We learn that Maurice gets that special little one only to find it not what he had hoped. This comes to an unbelievable ending which made me really despise Maurice. But he wasn’t done yet,he manages to “steal” or re-imagine books from others' ideas, always changing them up just enough so that it couldn’t be proven that he actually stole their ideas.

The last chapter introduces us to Theo who has told Maurice that he wants to write a thesis on him and Maurice, always vain, agrees to the interviews. This time, however, the tables are turned and what will we have here??? Very clever part of the novel.

I will look forward to any authors reactions when they read this book. The process of interns reviewing manuscripts possibly to discard a few because they were “too good”, better writers than themselves, was a really scary thought. I hope that the book is exaggerating the general system. I think someone has to be really mentally tough to put a book out there for someone to publish, I know several authors whom I’ve corresponded with who have boxes full of rejection letters before they got their published best seller :)

That is probably quite enough and maybe too much but I’m hoping to get you interested in the book. I was satisfied with the ending, although I had wished it would be a bit more of a balance, equal punishment for what he had done and is about to do again. This was a 4 1/2 star read for me just because the middle slowed down for a while, otherwise I do recommend this novel.

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,080 reviews619 followers
July 19, 2022
A finely crafted piece of literary fiction or a cheap throw-away psychological thriller? Or both? Or maybe neither? I’m still weighing up my thoughts on this, but either way I found this book hugely enjoyable.

In this cleverly structured novel we first observe an ageing writer who is visiting Berlin as part of a European tour to discuss his work. The writer reflects on his life of celibacy – he being a homosexual who, it seems, has never found the courage to act on his inborn predilection – when he spots an attractive waiter. Their subsequent meeting and the events that follow are beautifully and sensitively described. In the course of conversation, the writer opens up about his life and reveals a terrible secret from his early years.

In the next section we start to observe events through fresh eyes. This time it’s another writer who we’d already briefly met. The waiter appears again too and we learn something of events that transpired following Berlin, but the focus is really on this pair now. It’s not absolutely clear what the relationship is between the two men but clearly this second writer is also hugely attracted to this beautiful young man. Again, the writing is strong and the characters engaging. I had no real idea where this was going but I was already totally wrapped up in this tale.

In the third section we start to see events through yet another pair of eyes and things begin to become clearer. This is a book about deception, narcissism and cold blooded ambition. All that has gone before starts to come into closer focus and we now know who the central figure of this narrative is. But it at this stage that the book takes a step back from the literary piece I’d been reading thus far and a giant leap into the psychological thriller I hadn’t expected. And it wasn’t a transformation I particularly enjoyed. First there was the introduction of a character I found to be exaggerated and, frankly, unbelievable . Then the lead character perpetrates an act (or rather a series of acts) that totally change not only the direction of the story but also, for me, the nature of it. Gone is the slow but engaging voyage of discovery and here, with a bang, is a full-on tale of heartlessness and deceit.

Once I’d settled myself to this change of direction I found that, to some extent, I was able to adjust my expectations and enjoy it for what it was. And though it kept yo-yoing from the expertly constructed settings and conversation that peppered the early scenes to leaps in narrative that challenged my sense of belief, I think it just about managed to keep me sufficiently engaged to accept some of the stranger turns of event. And by the end of the tale I was back on side again, slowly turning pages to discover how this was all going to finally play out.

So for me it’s a book that is stunning in the way that the characters are developed, interesting in the way the plot twists and turns and yet somewhat bewildering in the sense that I struggled to believe that some of the events felt real. It’s a good book, maybe even a great book – I think I’ll have a clearer view of how I truly feel once I’ve had a day or two (or maybe a week or two) to think about it. In the meantime, I’m stuck between a feeling that this book merits either 4 or 5 stars. I’m going to go with 5, for now, on the basis that I rattled through it in a few days and each time I put it down I really couldn’t wait to pick it up again!

My sincere thanks to Random House UK, Transworld Publishers and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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