Review - The Absolutist

My rating:

The Absolutist

The Absolutist
by John Boyne

Tagged: WWI

Disowned by his family at 16 for a small indiscretion with his boyhood friend, Tristan Sadler spends a year and a half on his own before lying about his age and enlisting in the army to defend England in World War I. At training camp, he quickly becomes friends with Will Bancroft. Tristan is attracted to Will, but he has learned his lesson and keeps his emotions in check. It isn't until the night before they are shipping out to France that they find comfort in each other's arms. However, once they arrive in France, Will avoids Tristan, for the most part.

Yet, as brothers in arms in the same regiment, there is no avoiding each other, or the horrific scenes they both come to witness. Such scenes, as well as events in training camp, cause Will to question his part in the war, and ultimately make a decision that changes everything. Tristan miraculously survives the war, at least in body. His spirit is broken by what he has seen, and especially by his part in Will's fate. As “The Absolutist” opens, it's two years after the war, and Tristan is on his way to Norwich to meet with Will's sister, in the hope that he might be able to unburden himself of some of the pain he feels over Will's death.

This book is, in many ways, a classic war novel. While there is a strong gay theme to it, the story is more about the nature of bravery, cowardice, and principals. This is one of those rare books where each reader is likely to interpret the events and their meanings a little differently. It asks all sorts of questions that can make for interesting discussions if you read it as part of a group.

Another unusual aspect of this story is the way it unfolds. It becomes fairly clear by the end of the first chapter where things will go and what happened, and yet you will want to keep reading anyway, as the story drifts back and forth in time, from Tristan's post-war meeting with Will's sister back to the events of training camp and the war.

While “The Absolutist” is definitely a great book, and one I would highly recommend, I did have a few minor issues with it that kept me from giving it five stars. First was the ending, which as you can probably guess is far from happily ever after. While there was a short chapter that tied a lot of things up, it still left a few questions which I would have liked answered. There was also the historical background, which in broad strokes painted what seems like a very accurate picture of the times, but some details felt off. The picture of the times, as well as the language, seemed a little anachronistic. It's in very little things, like Tristan's exploration of Norwich, or the description of aerial bombing during the war, where it seemed things were viewed too much from a contemporary point of view. It's not enough to really detract from the story, but there were a few things that made me pause and wonder if that's the way things really would have been.

“The Absolutist” is available from Amazon.

Posted in Book Reviews on October 21, 2013