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The Absolutist Paperback – July 10, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2012: Disowned by his family due to an ill-advised kiss, Tristan Sadler enlists in the English army, hoping to prove himself on the battlefield but instead finding an unlikely lover. What begins as a slow-building World War I period piece (“Steady on, old chap”) 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 (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) has crafted a taut and tragic tale of love and war, with a kick-in-the-gut ending. The scenes in the trenches--“beneath the ground like cadavers"--are horrifying. So is the macho intolerance and fear of anyone who dares question the moral imperative of the terrible war, the alleged cowards and so-called “feather men.” --Neal Thompson

Guest Review by John Irving

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.


“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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press (July 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590515528
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590515525
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (215 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Boyne was born in Ireland in 1971 and is the author of seven novels for adults and three for children. The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas won two Irish Book Awards, was shortlisted for the British Book Award, reached no.1 on the New York Times Bestseller List and was made into an award-winning Miramax feature film. His novels are published in over 45 languages. He lives in Dublin.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Jay C. Pack on September 24, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Have you ever read a book that so upset you, so pissed you off, that you kept thinking-well when I finish this; I am going to write to this author and give him a piece of my mind, and then you realize that the piece of your mind that you want to give him is that he has written a book-that has in it's transformative power, touched you at the most raw places in your mind and heart? Such was my experience with "The Absolutist" by John Boyne, an Irish writer most well known for his bestselling children's book "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas." This is a book that is difficult to fit into a specific niche. Although there is a sexual relationship between two men, it can in no way be neatly packed away into the genre "Gay Literature." "A War Story", yes perhaps, but not one that hits you in the face like, let's say "All Quiet on the Western Front." No this writer is far too good for the direct hit approach; he instead relies on the slow sly systems used to write a good novel, the building of character and plot through action and description and suggestions. There is a scene in the book which I read through the veil of my tears where one knows that there can be no good outcome, but Mr. Boyne skillfully keeps you out there on the skinny branches, hoping against hope that something will happen that will change the probable consequences, but when the inevitable comes to fruition, you have the feeling of being sucker punched in the gut. At the end of the day, it can best be described as "A Morality Tale", but oh what a tale is told along the way. This is not a book that I will find easy to have in person discussions about, it took charge of a part of my heart that I am pretty sure will make it all but impossible to discuss without, quite frankly, losing it.Read more ›
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82 of 92 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
John Boyne's "The Absolutist" is the story of two British WW1 soldiers who are bonded through the terrors of the trenches and the horrors of warfare. One survives - forever damaged - and the other one is brought down by a firing squad on charges of cowardice.

The term "absolutist" is applied to a soldier who refuses to fight or take part in any wartime actions. They are different from "conscientious objectors", who were willing to serve in auxiliary roles at the front, i.e., nurses, stretcher bearers, ambulance drivers, etc. "Absolutists" refused - point-blank - to serve at all. These two men - only 18 years old when they meet at training school and then are sent to France to fight - are witnesses - and sometime participants - in brutality beyond description.

Tristan Sadler survived the war, returning to London and an entry-level job in the publishing industry. Still shattered by war-time experiences, he contacts the sister of his friend who was killed by the firing squad. Sadler has letters that his friend, Will Bancroft, had entrusted to him. These were letters to Will from his sister, Marian, and Sadler feels honor-bound to return the letters to Marian. He travels to Norwich to meet Marian and her parents. The Bancroft family is living as pariahs in their community because of the way Will Bancroft met his end.
Disgraced as the family of a "coward", Sadler tries to explain to them the circumstances of Will's declaration of his "absolutism" in wartime and the attendant result.

But there are secrets that Tristan cannot tell Will Bancroft's mourning family. And these secrets are what John Boyne so cunningly dole out in his novel. There's no black-and-white here, except maybe in the horrors of the trenches.
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Format: Paperback
Although most of The Absolutist centers on the horrors of World War I, Irish author John Boyne has created a novel which goes beyond the typical "war story" and becomes also a study of character and values. This broader scope allows the novel to appeal to a wider audience interested in seeing the effects of war on the main character, Tristan Sadler, as he lives the rest of his life. More a popular novel than a "literary" novel in its style, Boyne has constructed the plot with alternating time settings - before, during, and after the war - to take full advantage of the elements of surprise. The author often hints at personal catastrophes or dramatic events in one part of the novel, creating a sense of suspense and foreboding, then develops these secrets in grand fashion in another part, keeping the pace so lively that it is difficult for the reader to find a place to stop.

The novel begins in 1919, when Tristan Sadler, now twenty, arrives in Norwich, England, to return the letters that his deceased friend Will received from his sister during the war. Though war has been over for nine months, Tristan still suffers from nervousness and stress-related shaking, particularly of his right hand and index finger. Flashing back three years, the author then presents Tristan as a seventeen-year-old who has been thrown out of home and family. With no one who cares whether he is alive or dead, he enlists and trains as a soldier at Aldershot under a sadistic sergeant, totally committed to the war and to the killing. Eventually, he and his group of twenty men sail for France.
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