Where to begin…seriously. I finished this novel Monday night after a whirlwind read—I could not put it down. I stumbled across this novel on Net Galley and requested a copy from the publisher and I am incredibly glad I did! The following is my honest response and the views/opinions are my own. I did not receive compensation to review the novel.
I’ve divided my response into three parts: my response to the novel, a brief comparison and my (rambling) thoughts and questions to those who have also read the novel. If you have any desire to read the novel (WHICH YOU SHOULD ALL BE!), don’t read part three. I’ll try not to say explicitly, but it may give some parts away. Sorry it’s such a long post, but it’s such a good book! I will definitely have to re-read it as I didn’t come close to discussing everything I wanted to discuss!
My Response to The Absolutist
WHOA…for once, it is fairly simple to describe my feelings about a novel I knew nothing about going in: I fell in love. The overall story is incredibly gut-wrenching and heartbreaking by the ending, but you have to fall in love with it and the characters (even those you want to hate) because of the story and Boyne’s writing. I have never read Boyne, but have seen The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
The Absolutist is a love story, whether it’s unrequited love I haven’t decided. If you have read the book see Part 3 and then leave a comment or shoot me an email. I really want to know what others think on that point!
This is every man’s story from World War I, the atrocities and heinous acts they witnessed (and even committed), but perhaps most importantly, this is the story of those who were lost before the war started, those classified as deviants, misfits, even criminals, not for some heinous act but because of who they loved. Tristan and Will’s story is their story (and I will be cliché and say, one that continues today).
Not only does Boyne write characters you love (and love to hate) he writes scenes which pull at the essence of your humanity. I can’t even provide examples because I think you should read this novel. From the descriptions of the war-torn bodies to the tics of the survivors and myriad conversations between characters, Boyne writes in such a way that you’re not reading, but living and feeling the story and the action as it happens.
I thoroughly enjoyed the structure of the novel and can only imagine reading a finished copy will make it better. (There were some formatting issues, but as this is a Net Galley, I wasn’t too bothered and expected worse.) Through the flashbacks and the triggers I felt as if I was in Tristan’s mind. Marian was extremely well written and I viewed her as the person of the future, how people would be at least until WWII came around.
The Absolutist and At Swim, Two Boys
As I read The Absolutist I could not help but compare it to At Swim, Two Boys. If you don’t know, the title of my blog comes from At Swim, Two Boys and it is one of my all time favorite novels, which is interesting because I don’t like stories set in war times in general, but I feel as if that might be changing. There are striking similarities between the novels AND the authors which I found fascinating and this only skims the surface.
About the authors: both John Boyne and Jaime O’Neill are Irish; they’ve both lived (or still live) in London; both are gay authors whose subject isn’t necessarily LGBT focused, but has major LGBT impact for individuals (gay men in particular).
About the stories: both stories occur within five years of each other; both are at a time of upheaval (At Swim, Two Boys is about the 1916 Easter Rising); both stories feature young men coming to terms with their sexuality, their religion and their future; both are love stories that don’t have happy endings, but l leave the reader desperately hoping and imagining possible futures; and both touch the reader (or at least me) in an elemental way, in a deeper sense than many novels with happier/cleaner cut stories and endings.
The novels are as much about what isn’t there as what is. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Jim and Doyler’s story occurred during WWI rather than the Easter Rising and I can’t help but wonder if Will and Tristan met 30 years later how things would have turned out. Or if either ending was different…
Recommendation: READ IT. Buy a copy, share it, buy another one. (Amazon Associates Link.) I will definitely purchase a copy to keep on my ‘forever-shelf.’ Bottom line, if you enjoyed The Absolutist and can handle reading a tome check out O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys (he’s often been compared to Joyce for his stream of consciousness).
Opening Line: “Seated opposite me in the railway carriage, the elderly lady in the fox-fur shawl was recalling some of the murders that she committed over the years.”
Closing Line: “There will be outrage and disgust and people will turn on me at the last, they will hate me, my reputation will forever be destroyed, my punishment earned, self-inflicted like this gunshot wound, and the world will finally know that I was the greatest feather man of them all.” (Whited out.)
THERE ARE SPOILERS AFTER THIS. (AND MAYBE IN THE COMMENTS TOO!)
The One Outstanding Question
To those of you that read the novel I have a question and hopefully it’s not too round-about. If it is, feel free to contact me (via the comment form or by email). I’m trying not to reveal too much about the ending in case someone who wants to read it accidentally scrolls this far down. So here goes.
When Tristan tells his story to Marian we ultimately find out what happens to Will. I knew it was coming, but it was still painful to read—especially the scene in solitary confinement. My question is this: Do you think Will was telling the truth or was he lying to protect Tristan? Was he telling what he actually felt or was he masking everything for Tristan’s sake, to shelter Tristan from the life he would leave if the (perceived) love of his life died?
Clearly the life Tristan did lead wasn’t ideal, because of his actions, but that raises a second question. Was Tristan’s motive of hate or of love? Was it the final act of vengeance of a spurned lover or the mercy stone of a soul mate?
I’m sure we all have our own opinion, but I’m going to say I believe Will did it in an effort to save Tristan’s heartache; to force him to believe there was never anything there and hopefully one day move on with his life (think about how they describe Will’s reaction to seeing Tristan). I’m less positive on Tristan’s motive, but I’m going to also say it was love, that if it had to happen, he wanted to do it.
What do you think?! I’m honestly desperate to know.