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4.3 out of 5 stars112
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 31 May 2012
Having read and loved 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' a couple of years ago and being out of ideas for any new books to read, I walked in the book store a couple of weeks ago and decided to just grab a book by John Boyne. And to be honest, I have never been this happy with such an uninformed decision. Keep in mind though that this book shouldn't be compared to 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'. They are both set during war, but the story is of another kind and it's told in a completely different way. But just like that earlier book, I barely managed to set it aside to attend to other matters.

The story is written in a style that is enjoyable: the story is told by the 21-year old protagonist, in such a way that you immediately feel a connection with him, even though it's mostly out of pity. There are four distinctive time lines in the book: when Tristan was a young adult; when he had just joined the army; shortly after the 1st World War; and the 'present'; scrambled within the book to obtain a story of perfect order.

The story itself is very intriguing, mostly because the main storyline deals with certain aspects that aren't regularly discussed when talking about war. I would love to elaborate on this, but it would most likely spoil the experience of reading the book yourself. And if that part of the plot isn't enough to keep you glued to this book, then you should know that writing about the 1st World War gives the author the opportunity to talk about certain details (the trainingcamps, life in the trenches,...) of that tragic occurrence, and he does this so skillfully and vivid, that it's hard not to feel very emotional while reading those passages. In short the story can best be described as a combination of Mystery, Drama and Romance.

To conclude, with this book John Boyne has shown me that he possesses a very broad writingskill. Wether you liked 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' or not or you have never even heard of it, you should definitely read this book. It's a gripping tale, with an end that makes you unsure how to feel about it and makes you want to discuss it further.

I'll be sure to pick out a random 'John Boyne'-novel again next time I'm out of ideas for books to read!
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This is in many ways a painful-to-read book that masterfully evokes the horrors and stupidity of WWI and, equally, the intolerance and stupidity of Edwardian Era morality that isolated and victimized women, non-conformists and gay people. The story opens in 1919, with British Army survivor of the French killing fields, Tristan Sadler, on his way to visit the sister of his dead army compatriot, soul mate and physical intimate, Will Bancroft. Bancroft's death is a tragedy that neither Sadler nor the deadman's family has yet recovered from.

The story moves back and forth between the 1919 meeting and the several previous years in the lives of the two men. While there have been hundreds of books that have described the awfulness of WWI trench warfare, "The Absolutist" tells the story as well as any that I've seen. It also brilliantly relates the mental wounding that protagonist Sadler has experienced before, during and after the conflict. In many ways, his confinement in the trenches is equaled by his social confinement in civilian life.

This is a moving story that effectively illuminates the injustices, as well as the momentous political mistakes, of the 20th Century. It deserves to be read and understood by a large audience in the hope that we can eliminate the remaining bigotries and paths to conflict that we face today.
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VINE VOICEon 16 May 2013
This book was recommended to me. Previously the only book I have read from this author is The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas which was very good. My understanding was, correctly, that this was a book for adults rather than young adults and was surprised at the very large font in the version I read.
World War One and its effects on the individuals involved is a topic returned to regularly in fiction. Here we see Tristan Sadler going to visit the sister of a fallen comrade in 1919. The visit brings his memories to the surface and he relives the emotions encountered while in France during the war.
Tristan's character is sensitively developed. He is tormented by his experiences and torn between what is right and what is wrong. Visiting Marian serves as a vehicle for him (and her) to consider their feelings about what happened.
The trenches are described in great detail and the atmosphere is very vivid. The book is compared to Birdsong which I was by sceptical about but, having read the book, I think is fair. Here the story is slimmed down to only two views - the trenches and the visit the following year which intensifies the emotions.
It is a difficult challenge going over such a well trodden subject and there is little in here which has not bee covered before. However, John Boyne explores his subject so tenderly that this book cannot fail to be a worthwhile read to anyone interested in the human side of World War One.
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VINE VOICEon 13 October 2015
Although I find it hard to read about life in the trenches, this book was so well written that it drew me in in spite of the difficult content.
I liked that we were taken back to peaceful post-war England from time to time, to break up the horror of war.

The main character is Tristan Sadler, who is twenty-one when we meet him on his way to visit the sister of his wartime friend, Will Bancroft. By a series of back-stories and explanations to Will's sister, we learn what happened between them during training and on the Front.
Tristan is wracked by guilt and needs to speak to the one person who knew Will intimately. I'm not sure that revealing his secret was a good move, but he felt he couldn't keep it to himself any longer. Nowadays psychologists would be on hand for such situations, but this was post WWI.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, giving it 5 stars, there were definitely some blips, some of which really annoyed other members of my book group. Will Bancroft's behaviour towards Tristan, although understandable on some levels, caused a great deal of dissent, for example. I decided to leave my original rating, however.

I've only previously read Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (5 stars) by this author and I shall certainly be looking out for more by him in the future.
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on 14 October 2012
Unfortunately I guessed the plot of this novel from reading the blurb on the back cover - which I didn't do before I ordered it, having bought it from Amazon when I saw it was out in paperback. I wondered if I was right, and I was. No spoilers here because it is the most irritating thing when people do that: even having guessed, I wanted to read the book. I don't know whether he'd like to be compared to a more literary Ken Follett but I'd take that as a compliment given the sales it must surely bring! His books are page turners and he can certainly write.

I didn't like it as much as The House of Special Purpose but it kept me hooked enough to get to the end and say "well I was (mostly) right...". Other people here have griped about military anomalies and perhaps they are present, but the bigger picture is surely how a perfectly ordinary man copes with the horror that he sees all around him without going slowly mad. I thought Boyne presented that well. He also captures the small-minded and ungenerous response from those at home to people who suffered breakdowns when they couldn't cope with the trenches, or whose beliefs didn't allow them to fight. Perhaps the centenary of the start of the First World War next year will give us a chance to reflect on how harsh we were as a nation to judge those men.
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on 22 November 2012
The tragedy in this book is not only the loss of lives, sanity or humanity in the trenches. It's also the betrayal of love and friendship, or what love and friendship stand for.

I found very poignant the story of Tristan, this young man who made a terrible mistake during the war and never forgave himself even sixty years later. He condemned himself to a life of guilt and loneliness and never found the forgiveness needed to come out his prison.

Equally moving is the journey of his friend, Will, who voluntarily enlisted in the army to fight during WWI. After seeing the horrors of war Will ended up proclaiming himself a conscientious objector and an absolutist. Absolutists not only refuse to fight, but they also refuse to provide any kind of help or care to those who fight. It's a desperate act of protestation. I really felt for Will.

The story is narrated by Tristan and I like his voice. He shows no self-pity and does not try to make the reader pity him either. He is stoic and true, he is discreet and dignified. His circumstances are tragic enough.

I find that, in a way, both Tristan and Will are absolutist. Will is an anti-war absolutist while Tristan is a moral absolutist: once you have sinned, you can never be forgiven.

I liked this book. My only regret is that the description of life in the trenches, though vivid, was not as extensive as I had hoped.
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on 30 March 2014
There are some mixed reviews about this book, especially in reference to the episodes about the training and fighting in the Gret War. Please don't let them put you off and make your own mind up by reading this wonderful story for yourself.
It is a story from Tristan Sadler's perspective; he narrates the account and on reflection despite references to his own cowardise by others demonstrates that if nothing else he strove to tell the truth. He may at times have taken an easier path, but he was true to himself even if he thought he betrayed others.
From that perspective it reflects upon how each of us choses to live and reveal ourselves to others. In Tristan's case his life is complicated by feeling homosexual at a time when he couldn't be truely open about his sexuality; a young life where he went to war and had to endure the death of others in his group and ultimately his best friend who confronted by war laid down his arms and refused to fight or assist the war effort.
The book examines these issues of identity, sexuality and conscience in a thought provoking and moving way.
I am so pleased I read it and feel it has the potential to influence others like most good fiction can. It reflects on the war but for realism perhaps one should seek out Goodbye to All That or Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man.
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on 10 July 2013
I absolutely loved this book! I think it's excellently written. The style is uncomplicated, almost minimalist. The words simply flowed from the page into my head. The only times I noticed the language stand out from the page was when the dialogue was consistent with what I imagine to be how people spoke in the early part of the 20th century so it didn't seem wrong, just old-fashioned.

The plot was equally straightforward with only a handful of key characters to get to know, all of whom were solid and believable. The transition between the different times and scenes was effortless and never felt disjointed.

I do have one criticism but it is a minor one and not of the contents but of the cover. The cover carries a statement comparing it to Birdsong. Now it's a while since I read Birdsong so I don't remember it too well but what I do recall is a vivid and sapping depiction of war in the trenches. Although every scene John Boyne writes set in France carries some of the mud and the horror, this book did not affect me as deeply (from the PoV of war) as Birdsong did. It's a small deal though because 'The Absolutist' isn't about the Great War, it's about the love and the war between the two main protagonists.
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on 8 June 2011
I have been a fan of John Boyne's writing for some time and this book definitely did not disappoint! It was well written and was a real page turner right to the end. Touching at times and dramatic at others - this book has conveyed the story of 2 men in the midst of WW1 struggling to survive and cope with the help of each other. Beautifully written!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 October 2015
John Boyne is one of my favourite authors for his gritty realism and the vast range of subjects covered by his novels. It sets him aside as a smart author always likely to source new ideas and new areas.

The Absolutist tells the story of two friends during the First World War. There is more to their relationship as soon becomes obvious from some quite harrowing passages from the trenches of France. The main subject of the book Tristan Sadler has kept a secret and after the war he seeks out the family of his friend Will Bancroft on the pretense of returning letters to Will's sister. But there is a much darker reason for his journey to Norwich than this and gradually this unfolds through the story of what happened during the war and also his meetings with the Bancroft family.

It is a beautifully crafted novel and one of those that leaves you pondering long after the last page has been finished. If I do have a criticism I agree with the Amazon reviewer that at times the languages and some of the phrases used are far too modern for a book set in the First World War period.
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