Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Absolutist by John Boyne

The Absolutist by John Boyne
Narrated by Michael Maloney
Published May 2011 by Doubleday Publishing
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
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.

My Thoughts:
First - the three covers. Hardcover, paperback/Nook, and audiobook. They're all great covers but that hardcover, which I'd not seen until I started to write this, is absolutely perfect.
"Chiefly a phenomenon of Britain, white feathers were typically handed over by young women to men out of uniform during wartime, the implication being that the man concerned was a 'shirker' or a coward. The co-called 'Organisation of the White Feather' was initiated by Admiral Charles Fitzgerald in the opening month of the war and was encouraged by a number of writers, including Mary Ward. The organisation was founded as a means of applying pressure to able bodied men to enlist with the British Army." -
The movement was based on the 1902 novel by A. E W. Mason, The Four Feathers, in which a young man who quit his regiment during war received four white feathers as a sign of cowardice. For the soldiers in the field, men who declared as conscientious objectors became known as feather men and were looked down on as cowards, according to Boyne. During the First World War, these men were given noncombat duties (very often duties that put them in the most danger, such as stretcher bearers). An absolutist was someone who refused to serve the war in any way.

Second - the narration. Michael Maloney is fantastic. He manages multiple character voices and reads with emotion and animation. I'll definitely be looking for more of his work.

Finally - the writing.  Boyne addresses cowardice versus courage, both on the battlefield and off, loyalty, guilt, and morality through the lens of war and its aftermath. Boyne draws out his secrets slowly...until he doesn't and that's why it comes as such a big surprise. The story moves back and forth between Tristan's 1919 visit to Norwich and his time with Will during the war in 1916. 1919 is quiet, mannered, a land trying to reclaim normal. 1916 is loud, masculine, harsh - a tough place to be anyone other than a soldier. The contrast works marvelously to show how Tristan has come to the place in his life he has reached. Perhaps it was too easy to make Tristan's loutish father a butcher. Perhaps the war itself might have been broader. But I didn't really care. When it was good, it was brilliant.

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