A First World War veteran spills his secrets in this novel by Irish writer John Boyne ... Yet from the start, things are off-kilter ... Disgrace, we discover, has been central to Tristan’s young life. Boyne’s calm, measured prose erupts from time to time in bursts of unexpected shock, like exploding shells ... We realize we are reading the recollections of an elderly writer, seeing in his mind’s eye his younger self... A polished storyteller, Boyne takes us down a trail we think we recognize only to surprise us with a wartime tragedy about class, anger, and revenge.
The Absolutist is another wartime story, but this time it's the first world war. It depicts a relationship between two soldiers, Tristan Sadler and Will Bancroft, the latter of whom gravitates towards being the most extreme form of conscientious objector, refusing any role at all in the campaign: an absolutist ... With Williams, that sort of thing would have been followed by an amusing lurch into the demotic, but The Absolutist contains no humour whatsoever ... There are references to 'jokes and japes' among the men, but none is adduced. In fact, the whole book felt to me numb, generic ...will undoubtedly work for some readers but I felt it was better suited to a short book for children than a full-length novel for adults.
The Absolutist might be his most intimate story yet—a journey inside the mind of a man who’s seen the horror of war, and the tale of his quest to somehow find peace in the lonely aftermath ... Tristan bears the scars of war on his body, but the real reason for his journey is the scars on his heart. The world knows only that Tristan and Will were friends, and how Will officially met his end ...is surprisingly slim. Boyne conveys the period accurately and elegantly, but the characters—specifically Tristan, who narrates—are the stars ... This is a different kind of journey into the darkness of war, told by a gifted, powerful novelist, and the result is a book with an often staggering emotional punch.
In the year 1916, Tristan Sadler volunteers for military service on behalf of Britain, fighting the Great War that will define the future of the world ... Stripped of individuality or philosophies that the military deems distasteful, Tristan becomes a consummate soldier, at least publicly –– steadfast, patriotic, athletic, masculine, willing to kill when asked to, and seeming to relish in it. But once thrown into the mix of daily battle, he becomes greatly disillusioned ... Tristan’s part in this tale is lovely, achingly sad, tender, beautiful and quite haunting. This is an unforgettable, timeless love story and a very unique war story ... In a sense, The Absolutist is about a philosophical revolution not unlike that of the ’60s, full of progressive ideas but also sad ironies that still make sense today.
As the story opens, Tristan Sadler, who has just turned 21, is in the countryside north of London, looking to deliver a packet of letters from a wartime friend, Will Bancroft, to Will’s sister ... That’s the kind of thing that can get a fellow in trouble in the king’s army—and so, too, the forbidden love that Will and Tristan share. If Will is an absolutist, then Tristan is a situationist... Some of the key moments of the book—notably an encounter with a frightened German soldier—are very effective.
The emotive wartime saga is narrated by Tristan Sadler, a soldier en route to visit his dead comrade Will Bancroft’s older sister Marian in Norwich, England, a few years after serving in the Great War ...oscillates between Sadler’s trip in 1919 to return Will’s letters to Marian, and recollections of wartime, including a forbidden and fleeting homosexual affair with Bancroft, depicted by Boyne with the same polite, properly delicate prose that permeates the book ... A relentlessly tragic yet beautifully crafted novel from Boyne.