From the Vaults – John Boyne

By | April 13, 2016

It’s a weird thing, you know – despite reading like a woman possessed (ten books ahead of my Goodreads target) there are some days that I have nothing at all to post on Being Anne. If I’m honest, I’m feeling just a little bit off the pace at the moment – every time another blogger says “I’ve had a great idea for a feature…”, I do groan a little. Here on Being Anne, I read books and review them, I interview authors, I sometimes run blog posts or extracts, maybe a little promotion. People seem to like it. Maybe I’ll leave these innovative things to the youngsters.

Hang on though –  I DO have something they might not have, don’t I? I have history, many years of reviews that I’ve never really shared. Some of the older ones are lost, thrown away with old computers, but there are the early Goodreads reviews. They were much shorter than the reviews of today, but if I draw them together by author or publisher or theme… yes (and with many thanks to those bloggers who’ve trodden this path before me…) I might just have a feature. Let’s call it “From the vaults…”, as befits an old relic… here’s the first.

Let me introduce you to the wonderful earlier books of John Boyne…

Like most other people, I guess, I first discovered John Boyne’s books with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. At the time of its release back in 2006, everyone was reading it – and then a whole new group of readers discovered it when the film was released. I enjoyed it as much as everyone else – very cleverly done, very touching, with a quality of writing i wanted to read more of. You’ll find reviews of This House is Haunted and A History Of Loneliness here on Being Anne (those links are to my reviews) – I remember enjoying The Thief Of Time too, but that review has long been lost. My particular favourites are two of his earlier books:

The House Of Special Purpose 

Russia, 1915: At the age of sixteen, Georgy Jachmenev steps in front of an assassin’s bullet intended for a senior member of the Russian Imperial Family and is instantly proclaimed a hero. Before the week is out, his life as the son of a peasant farmer is changed for ever when he is escorted to St Petersburg to take up his new position – as bodyguard to Alexei Romanov, the only son of Tsar Nicholas II.

Sixty-five years later, visiting his wife Zoya as she lies dying in a London hospital, memories of the life they have lived together flood his mind. Their marriage, while tender, has been marked by tragedy, the loss of loved ones and experiences of exile that neither can forget.

The House of Special Purpose is a novel about a young man ripped from an impoverished home and thrust into the heart of a dying empire. Privy to the secrets of Nicholas and Alexandra, the machinations of Rasputin and the events which will lead to the final collapse of the autocracy, Georgy is both a witness and participant in a drama that will echo down the century, both publicly and privately – for his story is also one of a marriage riven by a husband who finds it impossible to live in the present and a wife unable to reconcile herself to the past.

My 2009 review

Anything involving Nicholas and Alexandra always does it for me. This was really excellent, with an modern story working backwards and a conventional historical story working towards the time of the revolution. It’s got it all – a terrifying Rasputin, the luxury of the royal palaces, superb portrayal of a life of privilege, and an all-consuming love story. The last line – “So this is what it means to be alone” – had me sobbing my heart out. Superb writing…

The Absolutist 

September 1919: Twenty-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a clutch of letters to Marian Bancroft. Tristan fought alongside Marian’s brother Will during the Great War. They trained together. They fought together.

But in 1917, Will laid down his guns on the battlefield and declared himself a conscientious objector, an act which has brought shame and dishonour on the Bancroft family.

The letters, however, are not the real reason for Tristan’s visit. He holds a secret deep within him. One that he is desperate to unburden himself of to Marian, if he can only find the courage. Whatever happens, this meeting will change his life – forever.

My 2012 review

My last book by John Boyne was Mutiny on the Bounty and it never really hooked me, so I’m pleased to report that I really loved this one. The structure of it is superb, alternating between the slow reveal of the First World War experiences of Tristan Sadler and Will Bancroft, and Tristan’s post war visit to Norwich to see Will’s sister. Beautifully written, the wartime scenes are every bit as real and harrowing as those in Birdsong, and the story is absolutely engrossing. This is a wonderful story of friendship and love and what true courage and bravery means. And the closing episode is really quite perfect. 

Maybe they’re a couple of books you missed – they both have my highest recommendation.

Author of nine novels, five books for young readers and a collection of short stories, John Boyne’s latest book The Boy at the Top Of The Mountain was published in hardback in October 2015 and will be released in paperback on 2nd June by Doubleday. For more information on John Boyne and his writing, he has an excellent website