I’m embarrassed by how much I enjoyed John Boyne’s wicked new novel, A Ladder to the Sky. It’s an addictive Rubik’s Cube of vice that keeps turning up new patterns of depravity. By the time every facet clicks into place, the story feels utterly surprising yet completely inevitable ... A Ladder to the Sky is a satire of writerly ambition wrapped in a psychological thriller. Beware reading this in public: Boyne’s prose inspires such a collision of laughing and wincing that you’re likely to seem a little unbalanced ... Clearly, decades in the business have rendered Boyne fluent in the language of literary combat. He knows just how certain writers pierce their colleagues with barbed compliments and hobble them with belittling praise.
Boyne builds the tension of Maurice’s insidious questioning with masterly precision, allowing the reader to understand Maurice’s duplicitous intentions long before the naive Erich does. What follows is a deliciously dark tale of ambition, seduction and literary theft ... In Maurice Swift, Boyne has given us an unforgettable protagonist, dangerous and irresistible in equal measure. The result is an ingeniously conceived novel that confirms Boyne as one of the most assured writers of his generation.
The way shame runs through the narrative, and the tortuous reading of signs and social cues on Erich’s part, all combine to make a forceful and guilt-ridden tale. Likewise, Boyne’s clear authority on historical detail in this period, put to such effect in his previous novels, shines through, and gives a convincingly-researched air of believability to the story ... As the plot continues, however, Boyne’s conceits start to fall apart, and none of the subsequent sections live up to the scope and detail of the first ... The novel’s title might almost make this seem deliberate: we climb a ladder to the sky, admiring the ascent, but eventually, looking back, we find ourselves further and further from solid ground.