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.
Unfortunately, neither Maurice nor the novel, which until this point is very engaging, thrives in captivity ... [A Ladder to the Sky employs] a narrative device that is a bit baffling for the reader... until a twist sends the plot, regrettably, in a different direction, away from its promising beginning as a comic novel satirizing the literary world, and toward the realm of simple satire, which glories in cliché and antic cruelty. I wish Boyne had chosen one path or the other. I cheer his attacks on the publishing industrial complex, but the strokes are so broad the assault is more ticklish than brutal. If satire was Boyne’s intention, a bit more poison in the pen would have helped in drawing out the three female characters, all of whom suffer under the weight of stereotypes.
Boyne sometimes paints in broad strokes, but he compensates with many wonderful touches. Exchanges between Vidal and Swift are deliciously venomous, and the digs at contemporary publishing are spot-on, as when Swift describes a debut novel he dislikes as, 'Bridget Jones meets A Clockwork Orange.' A Ladder to the Sky is an entertaining, if deeply cynical, portrait of the literary world.
What a tonic this book is for anyone who feels the world is too much with us these days! Maliciously witty, erudite and ingeniously constructed A Ladder to the Sky explores the cold outer limits of ambition ... Part of Boyne's own brilliance as a storyteller is that, up until the very last chapter when we readers finally enter into Maurice's mind, we hear, instead, from a succession of narrators fated to become Maurice's prey. That approach only intensifies Maurice's enigmatic allure ... Boyne himself doesn't share Maurice's difficulties with generating plot: A Ladder to the Sky keeps twisting and turning in such slyly unpredictable ways that, honestly, I sometimes laughed out loud at Boyne's ingenuity.
Boyne's mastery of perspective, last seen in 2017's The Heart's Invisible Furies, works beautifully here ... it seems almost impossible to enjoy reading A Ladder to the Sky as much as you definitely will enjoy reading it ... John Boyne's ambition in writing a comic novel about a nasty writer — that's nothing new. But John Boyne's ambition in writing a comic novel about a nasty writer with no scruples who never repents that will make you chuckle morbidly until the last line? That's ambition fulfilled.
... we’ve known these types of players in plenty of psychological thrillers, but in John Boyne’s hands, the subtleties of the moment are breathless ... Boyne’s writing is so graphic, and so creepy. You shouldn’t read this book before sleeping ... Boyne’s brilliant shifting points of view, and his command of one of the most self-rationalized psychopaths in modern literature will keep readers haunted after reading the conclusion.
A deft plotter, Boyne has fun with the idea that vampiring is simply part of what novelists do, and he implicates readers in their acts of thievery-as-creation by making us like despicable Maurice, almost against our will ... it may not be until you close this devilishly entertaining novel that it occurs to you to wonder if, by continuing to devour his exploits, maybe you were encouraging his villainy.
...engrossing ... Still, this isn’t Henry James and doesn’t aspire to be: it’s a rip-roaring beach read about literary life, the fools we make of ourselves in pursuit of love and fame, and the whirligig of time bringing in, as it always does, its revenges.
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.
... a a more soulful, better written entry in the Woman in the Window/Girl on the Train category of domestic thrillers ... [Maurice's] His behavior grows more and more reprehensible across several decades and it may not be until you close this devilishly entertaining novel that it occurs to you to wonder if, by continuing to devour his exploits, maybe you were encouraging his villainy.
John Boyne’s melodrama, A Ladder to the Sky, asks us to accept a number of clichés ... The great pleasure of Boyne’s novel is the schadenfreude. If you like to see bad guys get comeuppance, you will be more than satisfied when Swift is brought low, repeatedly ... Creating (and destroying) Swift must have been great fun for the author, and occasionally it is fun for the reader, too, but the lack of genuine humanizing elements makes those dark joys short lived.
Boyne lightens the book’s deep shadows and amorality with amusing jabs at the fame game behind literary life, with its blurbs and prizes, acolytes and endless envy. Boyne’s singular villain and well-sustained tension merit a good audience.