The Absolutist by John Boyne

A challenging and emotional novel that is both engrossing and difficult to read. Boyne offers us a tale of war, love, jealousy, and the way in which one’s principles can dictate one’s life. It is a gut-wrenching story and it was impossible not to feel affected by what Tristan – our main character – experiences before, during and after the Great War. From the very start we know that something tragic – a personal loss – has happened to him. Tristan professes diverging feelings in regards of what has happened to Will, a young man who he befriends during his training, before his time in France.
The characters are as compelling as the story itself, in a few lines Boyne is able to depict believable individuals who inspire a range of conflicting emotions within the reader: given the strenuous situations they are it is natural that their actions and words showcase all manners of complexities. I was, for the most part, taken by Tristan: I often found myself wanting to hug him or shake him. I didn’t always understand his actions but I believe that is because he didn’t always understand them himself. I was frustrated by him and for him, no matter what I found his voice compelling and heart-rendering.
There is a feeling of growing unease that made me both eager and terrified to read on. The plotline is unpredictable, Boyne delivers a few ‘I did not see that coming’ moments. I read this book quickly, desperate – and anxious – to know what would happen next. And while Tristan’s story is emotionally draining, I also didn’t want to leave him. Terrible things happen and yet I was so engaged by his story that I kept at it. It is also a novel that makes you think by challenging your own moral code without giving us predictable outcomes and or answers.
The Absolutist made me cry, it made me angry, it made me hopeful and it left me bereft. It isn’t an easy read but I recommend it to those who are looking for something more substantial.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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