Their stories will intertwine and evolve over the course of two thousand years. They will meet again and again at different times and in different places. From Palestine at the dawn of the first millennium and journeying across fifty countries to a life among the stars in the third, the world will change around them, but their destinies remain the same. It must play out as foretold.
... quirky, ambitious and ultimately disappointing ... a bold conceit and it’s impressive that Boyne pulls it off at all ... Characters tend to die in natural disasters or be murdered horribly every few pages; one effect of this rapid turnover is that the book feels cartoonish and unreal. The narrator careens through various historical tableaux, as though bouncing around inside a themed pinball machine ... The big canvas stretches and exposes the limitations of Boyne’s writing. No matter the historical period, everything’s rendered in a moth-eaten, non-specific literary prose where people 'don' and 'proffer' things and that never says in three words what it can say in 15 ... It scarcely needs to be said that the book is intended as a gung-ho rebuttal of the notion that writers should stay in their lane and stick to fictional worlds that are appropriate to their identity. But Boyne goes ahead and says it anyway ... a simplistic view of history, psychology and the problems of representation. Boyne operates under the blithe assumption that people in different historical milieux feel exactly the same way about such culturally determined things as creativity, monogamy and love. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t; but it doesn’t occur to him to wonder ... To be clear, I’m deeply sympathetic to the argument that novelists should roam freely around human experience. I think it’s important to stick up for the principle of fiction which says that through an imaginative effort you can discover and convey a sense of what it’s like to be another person. But Boyne’s take on this feels lazier, narrower and harder to defend: I don’t need to imagine your life, the book seems to say, you’re just like me.
... lively and overreaching ... The reader doesn’t suffer much whiplash, chapter to chapter, adapting to the new configurations, and picks up the knack quickly ... The brief experience of being in any of Boyne’s settings is a sort of tourism, while the broad experiences of the characters reinforce the book’s artistic message of universality ... This would make for a nice middle-brow fable – funny when its humour is less obvious, gripping and readable where not choked by unsubtle technique – and that would be that. But A Traveller has what one of its historical celebrity walk-ons would call 'vaulting ambition'. Boyne’s 12th novel for adults feels influenced by Susan Barker’s The Incarnations or something by David Mitchell, but the scope is yet wider ... The narrators are themselves responsible for some of the finest artworks ever created, yet display scant artistic sensibility as storytellers. The best-selling author, speaking through his various conduits, has a serially unmusical voice ... Besides the truism that human experiences and feelings are immutable, cursory work seems to have been put into imagining how a person from this or that period might have experienced or felt them, beyond lip-service paid to shifting attitudes about gender, sexuality, slavery and colonialism. The texture of the past is evoked almost exclusively through heightened formality and long-winded redundancy ... Without the precision and attention to language that was also a hallmark of such formality in speakers from previous ages, we are left simply with laboured speech. Good old-fashioned historicalese. It’s hard even to get behind a well-meaning, spirited pastiche set in Shakespeare’s London ... I know this much: things that surround characters may change, but bad writing stays the same.
t is so totally unlike any other novel of his that I have difficulty categorizing and describing the story. This is not a criticism; it is simply an observation from a reader who embarked on a far different adventure from the one he expected when he opened the book ... John Boyne is a great writer. A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom is not his finest book, but it is still thought-provoking, well-written and worthy of your consideration.