The Absolutist

The Absolutist

4.6 16
by John Boyne
     
 

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A masterfully told tale of passion, jealousy, heroism and betrayal set in the gruesome trenches of World War I.

It is September 1919: twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a package of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, the man he fought alongside during the Great War.

But the letters are not the…  See more details below

Overview

A masterfully told tale of passion, jealousy, heroism and betrayal set in the gruesome trenches of World War I.

It is September 1919: twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a package of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, the man he fought alongside during the Great War.

But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan's visit. He can no longer keep a secret and has finally found the courage to unburden himself of it. As Tristan recounts the horrific details of what to him became a senseless war, he also speaks of his friendship with Will--from their first meeting on the training grounds at Aldershot to their farewell in the trenches of northern France. The intensity of their bond brought Tristan happiness and self-discovery as well as confusion and unbearable pain.

The Absolutist is a masterful tale of passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal set in one of the most gruesome trenches of France during World War I. This novel will keep readers on the edge of their seats until its most extraordinary and unexpected conclusion, and will stay with them long after they've turned the last page.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Boyne’s new novel documents the lives of two inseparable men navigating the trenches of WWI and the ramifications of a taboo involvement. 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. The story 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. Bancroft is the self-declared “absolutist” of the title, objecting not only to fighting, but to doing anything at all that would “further the war effort.” Sadler’s feelings for Bancroft bring him shame amid the horrors of battle, eventually making an absolutist of Sadler as well. When the young Sadler confides the details of his time with Bancroft to Marian, she rejects him, a reaction echoed 60 years later, by which time Sadler has come into his own as a literary sensation. Once again he braves Marian’s disapproval, inciting a final heartbreak. A relentlessly tragic yet beautifully crafted novel from Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). Agent: Bonnie Nadell, Hill Nadell Literary Agency. (July)
From the Publisher
“A novel of immeasurable sadness, in a league with Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.  John Boyne is very, very good at portraying the destructive power of a painfully kept secret.” —John Irving

"A moving and deeply felt tribute to a love that dared to speak it's name once—or maybe twice—and then forever held its tongue.  We suffer in silence, we love in silence, and we regret and learn to live our unlived lives in silence as well."—André Aciman author of Call Me by Your Name

"John Boyne has produced a gripping, superbly plotted novel, filled with surprises that are by turns confounding, disturbing and tremendously moving.  For all its spellbinding narrative momentum, The Absolutist is, in the end, a sober meditation on the heartbreak that ensues when people and principles collide." —Paul Russell, author of The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov

“A relentlessly tragic yet beautifully crafted novel.” —Publishers Weekly

“A thought-provoking and surprising page-turner that for some readers may recall Ian McEwan’s Atonement.” —Reba Leiding, Library Journal

"Extraordinary...The narrative is by turns surprising and tragic in equal measure while its troubling conclusion will stay with readers long after they've closed the book." —Carlo Gebler

"Powerful, poignant and beautifully written. This will become a classic war novel." —The Bookseller

"John Boyne brings a completely fresh eye to the most important stories. He is one of the great craftsmen in contemporary literature." —Colum McCann

"A wonderful, sad, tender book that is going to have an enormous impact on everyone who reads it." —Colm Toibin

"Political, personal, powerful...a fiercely interrogative novel that asks not just what it means to be a man but also what it means to be a human being in the extreme circumstances of war." —Irish Times

"(In) Boyne's fiction, there's a sense that people are fundamentally the sum of their traumas...Boyne's narrative grip is strong." —Literary Review

The Absolutist is surprisingly slim. Boyne conveys the period accurately and elegantly, but the characters—specifically Tristan, who narrates—are the stars. This isn’t a novel about WWI; it’s a novel about the unique horror of one man’s experience, and Boyne makes every word count.” —BookPage

“An outstanding read, very highly recommended.” —Historical Novel Society

“What begins as a slow-building World War I period piece…grows deeper, more curious, and uneasy as it progresses—and midway through this sad and beautiful story, you realize you’re in the hands of a quiet master. Piling questions atop half-truths, John Boyne…has crafted a taut and tragic tale of love and war, with a kick-in-the-gut ending” —Amazon (Amazon’s Best Books of the Month list)
 
“You will hold your breath, you will smile, and you may cry, but when it’s all said and done the story will end as it was always meant to.” —Examiner
 
“What is most memorable here is the timelessly doomed relationship between Tristan and Will, marked by tenderness and confusion and cruelty in the face of their own internalized repression, as British as it is of its time. This is a wonderfully crafted tragedy that will stay with the reader for days.” —The Daily Beast (Hot Read)
 
The Absolutist needs to be read, for society always needs to be reminded that war and civilization are mutually exclusive, and that if we still have war, then we’re not yet civilized.” —The Coffin Factory
 
“This story…can be darkly graphic and emotionally brutal. An outstanding, thought-provoking look at the passionate choices we make, and how we react to life-changing situations. Much recommended for all readers, five full stars out of five.” —Yahoo (Editor’s pick of the month)
 
“In this relentlessly tragic yet beautifully crafted novel, Boyne documents the lives of two inseparable men navigating the trenches of WWI and the ramifications of a taboo involvement.” —Publisher’s Weekly
 
“Poetic, passionate, and poignant, The Absolutist is about self-discovery, friendship, and how far bravery can take us.” —Interview Magazine

The Absolutist is a slim, tightly wound novel of love and disaster.” —The Millions
 
“A powerful story about love, hate, courage, guilt and war where nothing is simple and everything might not be as it seems.” —Shelf Awareness

“An unforgettable story that transcends genres.” —Huntington News

“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.” —Book Page

"The Absolutist is a riveting look into what drives the relationships we have in spite of the world around us." —Seattle Gay News

"This is great modern literature with fantastic artistic appeal and superb writing, a story of duty, honor, love, high passion and integrity." —Book Reporter 

"Writing of this sensitivity and simply verbal beauty is rare. Boyne is rapidly becoming one of the great writers of the century." —Literary Aficionado

"It's an outstanding, thought-provoking look at the passionate choices we make, and how we react to life-changing situations. It's much recommended for all readers." —Echo Magazine

"For me, the world totally ceased to exist while I was reading The Absolutist...If you plan on reading just one book this winter, this should be it." —Washington Blade

Library Journal
This award-winning Irish author (The Boy in Striped Pyjamas) has written a most English book. In 1919, young Tristan Sadler, a recovering veteran of World War I, travels by train to Norwich to return some letters to the sister of regiment mate Will Bancroft, who was killed in combat. Readers looking forward to refined conversation over tea as the two lament his death are in for an uncomfortable shock, as alternating lengthy chapters descend into the hell of a war not well remembered now: the mud, lice, and rats in the subterranean trenches, to say nothing of the carnage in meaningless battles. Tristan struggles with huge secrets. One is his homosexuality, which, in early 20th-century fashion, is not named outright. The other is Will's ultimate fate, brought about as the understaffed British troops arguably go mad under the pressures of war. VERDICT A thought-provoking and surprising page-turner that for some readers may recall Ian McEwan's Atonement, another novel with themes of war and recrimination.—Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A novel set in the trenches of World War I, one of several by Irish author Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2006, etc.) staged amid the 20th century's worst moments. 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. Sadler is at once shattered and defiant: He has survived the horrors of the Western Front, one of just two boys--and boys most of them were--in his basic training unit to make it out alive. As for the rest: Well, Boyne honors convention by giving each soldier a turn in the spotlight, sometimes briefly, sometimes for symbolic purposes. One is killed off fairly early on in the proceedings, but not before he has had the chance to trouble the unit with doubts about just what this war among royal cousins is all about. In time, the seditious spirit will spread to Will, who, for complex and subtle reasons, has decided to become an "absolutist"--that is, to have absolutely no part in the war effort, not even as a stretcher bearer. 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; when Will asks him whether he has any principles, he replies, "No. ... People, perhaps. But not principles. What good are they?" Some of the key moments of the book--notably an encounter with a frightened German soldier--are very effective.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590515532
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
07/10/2012
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
126,448
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

“Keep it together, Tristan,” he tells me quietly, putting a hand around my shoulder as his eyes search to make and hold a connection with my own, his fingers pressing tightly around my flesh, sending a current of electricity through me despite my grief; it’s only the second time he’s touched me since England—the first was when he helped to lift me off the floor of the deluged trench—and the only time he’s spoken to me since the boat.
   “Keep it together, yes? For all our sakes.”
   I step closer to him and he pats my arm in consolation, leaving his hand there longer than is necessary.
   “What did Rigby mean when he said he was sorry to hear about…well, he didn’t finish his sentence.”
   “It doesn’t matter,” I say, moving forward in my grief to put my head down on his shoulder, and he pulls me to him for a moment, his hand at the back of my head, and I am almost certain that his lips brush the top of my hair but then Turner and Sergeant Clayton come into sight, the loud voice of the latter complaining about some new disaster, and we separate once again. I wipe the tears from my eyes and look at him but he’s turned away and my thoughts return to my oldest friend, dead like so many others. I wonder why in God’s name I ever went to look at Rich, Parks, and Denchley’s bodies when I could have been in my foxhole all this time, grabbing a few minutes’ sleep, and knowing nothing about any of this, nothing about home or Chiswick High Street, my mother, my father, Peter, or the whole bloody lot of them. “

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"A thought-provoking and surprising page-turner that for some readers may recall Ian McEwan's Atonement, another novel with themes of war and recrimination." —-Library Journal Starred Review
John Irving
I became an admirer of John Boyne's writing with his first novel, The Thief of Time. His latest, The Absolutist, is a novel of immeasurable sadness, in a league with Graham Greene's The End of the Affair and a no less masterful handling of the first-person narrative voice than Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table. Boyne is very, very good at portraying the destructive power of a painfully kept secret — not to mention the damage done by the self-recriminations (and other condemnations) that are released when that secret is revealed. The Absolutist is one of those great stories that is not what it first seems, though what the story appears to be is a powerful enough premise to begin any novel: a young soldier, returning from World War One, is traveling from London to Norwich to deliver some letters to the grieving sister of a fallen comrade. We presume that the worst of what has happened is what we already know or have imagined of those trenches in northern France. (Boyne is also very, very good at historical fiction; The Absolutist begins in September 1919. ) But the young soldier, who is twenty-one, has something to confess; this is a forbidden love story, a gay love story, but one with a terrible twist...
— John Irving

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Meet the Author

John Boyne was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1971. He is the author of nine novels (seven for adults and two for children), including The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which was made into an award-winning film. The novel also won two Irish Book Awards, was short-listed for the British Book Award, reached the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list, and has sold more than five million copies. His novels are published in forty-five languages. He lives in Dublin. Please visit him at www.johnboyne.com

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Absolutist 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
BookHussy More than 1 year ago
Tristan Sadler, disowned by his family, enlists in the British army at the age of 17 to fight in the Great War. He almost immediately falls in love with Will, another soldier, during training who later becomes an 'absolutist' when they are fighting on the front lines. An absolutist is a soldier who refuses to participate in a war whatsoever. Will was shot by a firing squad as a coward. After the war, Tristan is shattered by what he has seen and experienced. He finally travels to Norwich to meet with Will's sister to return a packet of letters...and to unburden himself and convince Will's family that he did not die as a coward. Please let me say that this book is SO much more than I have attempted to describe...the characters are so well-drawn, the plot so deftly layered. You will constantly be surprised by secrets, nuances and tragedies. This is an amazing novel, and I highly recommend it. My review does not do it justice.
MaryRidgway More than 1 year ago
John Boyne creates a vivid scene of the brutality of war and the emotional turmoil of young boys sent to the trenches of France in the Great War. Tristan, a troubled lad who has been shunned by his family, enlists when under age in order to fight. He is drawn to the charismatic Will, who plays with his heart and only adds to Tristan's confusion. When Will is branded a coward and sentenced to death by firing squad, Tristan must grapple with the true meaning of being a featherman in a way that will have repercussions for his entire life. Boyne skilfully explores the dilemma of moral courage vs duty to country through the journey of two young soldiers thrust too soon into manhood in the madness of battle. And through his absorbing prose the reader will, just as Tristan does, finally realise that honour has many different meanings.
ChadlyAZ More than 1 year ago
One of the best written, although sadly tragic gay love stories every written. Tastefully written for all readers it is a true tales of love, tragedy, devotion, pain, and agony set during the great war. Well written with excellent character development. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great Book! Could not put it down.
Barbara2 More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a very powerful book depicting the horrors and futility of war and of the derision and hatred suffered by those who do not join in "the game". Mr. Boyne knows just how to weave his story so that we are always kept wondering, moving from the present to the past and back again for his characters. It is a very sad story and the events of his military stint and brief encounters with the man he so admires and grows to love influence his entire life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of Mr. Boyne's works.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you want a story that grabs you and stays with you, then this novel is for you.
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PenelopeSue More than 1 year ago
loved it