John Boyne – A Ladder to the Sky

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John Boyne – A Ladder to the Sky

When Erich Ackermann first meets the young man in a café he is flattered by the admiration of a man so many years younger. As it turns out, Maurice is also a writer like him and Erich believes to discover the aspiring young man he once was in his new acquaintance and he immediately falls for him. Erich takes him on his tour around Europe to promote his book and the more time they spend together, the more the elderly scholar opens up and reveals secrets of his past to his young companion. He will regret this blind trust just as others will, too. Maurice, the charming handsome writer is quick in beguiling and clever at deceiving those who seem closest to him.

John Boyne’s latest novel is an astonishing piece of art. I wouldn’t stop reading after only a couple of pages. As in other novels before, he is brilliant at creating interesting and outstanding characters who act in a perfectly natural and authentic way. But also the set-up of “A Ladder to The Sky” superb: first, he gives the characters a voice who have fallen for Maurice; we only get the view of the outside and just as the narrators, we as the readers, too, are deceived by Maurice and feel anger and fury because of his shameless behaviour. It is only in the last part that Maurice himself gets to tell his view.

I assume the title is an allusion to the famous “Ladder of fortune”, at least it strongly reminded me of it. Yet, Maurice shows that it doesn’t need honesty and morality to succeed, riches and reputation also come if you are clever at deceiving and manipulating others and if you are cold-blooded enough to betray you own wife.

Apart from the outstanding characters and the noteworthy structure, I also highly appreciate Boyne’s style of writing. It’s sublime and moving and you get the impression that he really cares for his characters – maybe not that much for the evil Maurice. The plot twists and turns and even though you often already have a bad feeling of what might come, you don’t want to believe that this could actually happen. It hurts at times, but this makes it just more authentic.

Rachel Cusk – Kudos

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Rachel Cusk – Kudos

Faye, a British writer, is on her way to a book conference somewhere in southern Europe. She is expected to give several interviews and to take part in social events. The people she meets all have a story to tell – and they do. Faye herself hardly ever talks, especially not about herself, she somehow makes people around her open up and share their thoughts with her. First, it’s the passenger seated next to her in the plane leaving London. Later she meets interviewers who much rather talk about themselves than about their interviewee, her publisher shares her thoughts on the book market and fellow authors who want to convey a certain image of themselves.

“Kudos” is certainly a very special novel. I do not think I have ever read a book in which a first person narrator tells a story and at the end you ask yourself if you got only the slightest idea of the narrator herself. Faye hardly reveals anything, even though she is interviewed over and over again, we only know about a divorce and a son and the fact that she’s a writer – we do not even know what her current is actually about.

Yet, I think Faye might have another function that providing a clear picture about herself. She is more like a canvas, she motivates other characters to paint themselves on her, she is their means for expression. This goes quite well with the title “Kudos”, praise for exceptional achievement or fame, especially in the arts. However, what has Faye done? We know nothing of her own achievement, she is well known for sure, but what exactly for remains in the dark. What we know is that her private life has not been that successful, the separation of her partner and a son who prefers to stay much rather with the father than with her. Only once, at the very end of the novel, is she in contact with him, but only because he cannot get in touch with his father and needs an adult to share his nightly disaster with.

The things the characters share with Faye vary from professional fulfilment and familial shortcomings, over feminism to literature and its quality. Yet, their opinions are neither discussed not questioned, they are just statements that you can ponder. I do not really know what to make of this, I like characters sharing strong opinions on something and thinking about it, but I also appreciate if an author provides a kind of objection or agreement.

“Kudos” is the concluding novel of Cusk’s trilogy which started with “Outline” in 2015 and continued 2016 with “Transit”. I haven’t read the previous ones thus I do not know if we get a better idea of her protagonist through them. However, I didn’t feel like having had to read them to enjoy “Kudos”.

The novel is remarkable in several ways, it reveals a lot about human nature and in particular human narcissism. The words are carefully chosen and the sentences wisely constructed, the language is simply beautiful. All in all, an outstanding piece of art. Kudos for that.