A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne: Darker Than The Heart’s Invisible Furies, But Still 5 Stars!

A Ladder to the SkyFiction – Literary
Release Date: November 13, 2018
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher: (Hogarth Books)

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I’m two for two on 5 star books by John Boyne…though, A Ladder to the Sky is much darker and not necessarily for the exact same type of reader as The Heart’s Invisible Furies.

Plot Summary

Maurice Swift is single-mindedly focused on becoming a world famous author (despite having trouble coming up with story ideas) and will use anything and anyone to get there.

Why I Read It

Because The Heart’s Invisible Furies (my review), obviously!

Major Themes

Ambition, literary world, using people, relationships, writing process

What I Liked

  • Y’all know I loved Boyne’s 2017 novel, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, so A Ladder to the Sky had huge shoes to fill! While it didn’t fill that exact pair of shoes, it did fill a pair of equal size, just in a different style.
  • It’s much darker (I don’t mean sadder…I mean more messed up) than The Heart’s Invisible Furies. For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone who loved The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but Boyne’s writing style is absolutely there and I 5 star-loved it.
  • Maurice is an operator / manipulator to a degree I don’t think I’ve seen all that much in fiction. He’s much like many of Herman Koch’s characters in that he’ll say incredibly unsettling things that most regular people may not even think, much less say aloud. He’s not the least bit likable (readers who want to see likable characters in your reading, this is your warning!), but he sure is disturbingly fascinating.
  • A Ladder to the Sky, particularly its structure, unfolds brilliantly. Each section is told from the perspective of someone Maurice impacted on his quest for literary dominance…including the real life literary legend, Gore Vidal. These sections feel a bit like extremely interconnected novellas. I loved it more and more with each new section.
  • The story begins in the 1980’s and moves forward, but a large chunk of the opening section is told through flashbacks to World War II in Germany. Parts of the book felt like historical fiction and parts felt very contemporary. Y’all know I have a finicky relationship with Historical Fiction, but I loved this mash-up of the historical and contemporary.
  • I loved the look into the dark side of publishing and the literary world. I’m hoping Boyne’s portrayal is a bit exaggerated, but it made for delicious reading. I can’t help but wonder how much of this stuff actually goes on in real life.
  • This one could’ve gone on my list of 16 Character-Driven Novels I Couldn’t Put Down and my list of 12 Memorable Villains of Fiction if I’d read it in time!
  • This would be an excellent book club selection!

What I Didn’t Like

  • This isn’t truly a criticism…more of a nit-picky observation about A Ladder to the Sky compared to The Heart’s Invisible Furies. But, one of the things I loved most about The Heart’s Invisible Furies is that it made me feel a  wide range of emotions (joy, sadness, delight, amusement, etc.). A Ladder to the Sky is not that kind of book…it’s more like watching a series of massive betrayals one after the other. You know it’s coming, the surprise is in what form it will take. The prevailing emotion throughout the whole thing is horrified incredulity.

A Defining Quote

“And you’ve heard the old proverb about ambition, haven’t you?”
He shook his head.
“That it’s like setting a ladder to the sky. A pointless waste of energy. […]”

Good for People Who Like…

Dark stories, dislikable characters, a memorable villain, stories set in the literary world

Other Books You May Like

Another book starring authors that features dislikable characters:
Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch (my review)

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  1. You’ve convinced me. This is going on my wish list.

    Posted 11.15.18 Reply
  2. You’re right, our thoughts were almost identical. I need to go back and read some of his earlier books. We may have a gold mine there!

    Posted 11.15.18 Reply
  3. Diane D wrote:

    Hope to read this one by the end of the year. Glad you loved it Sarah.

    Posted 11.15.18 Reply
  4. Jan wrote:

    I 5 star loved this too and “horrified incredulity” is a perfect way to describe the reading experience!

    Posted 11.16.18 Reply

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