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A Ladder to the Sky

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Product Description

A psychological drama of cat and mouse, A Ladder to the Sky shows how easy it is to achieve the world if you are prepared to sacrifice your soul.

If you look hard enough, you can find stories pretty much anywhere. They don’t even have to be your own. Or so would-be writer Maurice Swift decides very early on in his career.

A chance encounter in a Berlin hotel with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann gives him an opportunity to ingratiate himself with someone more powerful than him. For Erich is lonely, and he has a story to tell. Whether or not he should do so is another matter entirely.

Once Maurice has made his name, he sets off in pursuit of other people’s stories. He doesn’t care where he finds them – or to whom they belong – as long as they help him rise to the top.

Stories will make him famous but they will also make him beg, borrow and steal. They may even make him do worse.

Author: John Boyne.

Hardcover, 368 pp, 2018.

Praise for A Ladder to the Sky:

"If you like a novel with an immoral main character, then John Boyne has created a cracker for you. This story of grasping ambition is not set in the cut-throat world of business but in the supposedly genteel world of publishing. Maurice Swift is an extremely captivating young man who wants to be a famous writer and he can write, but what he lacks is the heart of any great novel - a good story. And so he steals them! His first victim Erich Ackermann is a distinguished novelist in his mid-sixties, winner of the illustrious Prize, a gay man who closed himself off from intimacy after a tragic infatuation and deadly betrayal in his youth. He becomes completely captivated by Maurice (his ‘powerful blend of vitality and impulsive sexuality’) and helps his young protege gain introductions into literary circles. For the first time in almost fifty years he also confides the story of his one tragic love and Maurice laps it up. The structure of the novel is very accomplished with multiple narrators telling the story of their undoing at the hands of Maurice Swift - Erich Ackermann, Maurice’s wife Edith who eclipses his literary success to her own peril, and even real-life writer Gore Vidal. It’s only in the novel’s final section that Maurice himself takes over duties as narrator. The interlude set at Gore Vidal’s home La Rondinaia on the Amalfi Coast is one of the novel’s highlights. Maurice has been brought there by his new literary conquest, Dash Hardy, a middling novelist, in the hopes of securing a blurb for Maurice’s book from Gore - or perhaps something more! But Vidal is the only person shrewd enough to see through Maurice almost instantly and at the end of this section he dresses him down. ’I’ve known a lot of whores in my life ... both men and women. And in general, I’ve always found them to be good company, with a highly evolved sense of honour. A whore will never cheat you, they have too much integrity for that. But you, Mr Swift, you give the profession a bad name.’ There are some wonderfully witty lines and dialogue in this Gore Vidal section but they are eclipsed later in the book by the acidic exchanges between Maurice and a rival novelist, Garrett Colby, who was once a student of Edith’s. Literary references abound - Edmund White pops up in a brief cameo towards the end and readers of Boyne’s very fine previous novel The Heart’s Invisible Furies will notice the reference to Maude Avery, the novelist character from that book. This is a page-turning novel of audacious ambition and insidious literary theft fuelled by the consummate seduction of either sex. But it’s the reader who is also likely to be seduced by this duplicitous scheming antihero, who will remind many of Patricia Highsmith’s most famous character, Ripley." 

Reviewed by Graeme Aitken


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