The long-awaited U.S. release of John Boyle’s ‘The Absolutist’ lives up to, even exceeds, the hype


WAR AND REMEMBRANCE | John Irving touted John Boyle’s ‘The Absolutist’ as the best book to come along in ages. Apparently, he was right.

For some reason, Tristan Sadler just can’t seem to let it go. It happened so many years before. He was a child, really: old enough to know better, but not old enough to resist his impulses; old enough to act, but not old enough to understand that the consequences of his action would be carried as pain for decades.

Everyone tells him to forgive himself, that it’s OK to move on.

What they don’t know is, while the years pass, the regret he feels never does.

Tristan hoped his memories of battle would eventually fade. He hoped that nobody would ever know what he’d seen. And in The Absolutist — a new, exciting novel by gay author John Boyne — he hoped they’d never know what he did.

Marian Bancroft lived quite far away from London. It wouldn’t be easy to get there; nonetheless, Tristan made the journey. He wasn’t sure why he needed to give her the letters but somehow, it seemed important.

Not long before, he’d written to Marian, telling her about the letters, knowing she’d want them. Though she’d answered back that, yes, it would be nice to have some of her brother Will’s last possessions, Tristan wasn’t sure of the reception he’d get from her. After all, he had survived World War I, and Will had not.

Upon meeting, Tristan thought that Marian was a little addled but, no, she was just nervous; after a cup of tea, Tristan even believed they might be friends someday. Sometimes, when she scrunched her nose just so, he could see Will in her — they were siblings — and a jolt would pass through his heart.

Tristan and Will had been through military training together. Just 17, Tristan had lied about his age so that he might join the army. He supposed it was what he needed to do, especially since he had nowhere else to go. Especially since his father sent him away for kissing another boy.

And Will was handsome. He had a great sense of humor and a deep sense of honor. Throughout their training, Tristan and he became friends. Then more than friends.

Now, there was Tristan, three years after the war’s end, holding a bundle of Will’s letters. And when Marian asked what happened on the day that Will died, Tristan knew suddenly why he’d brought the letters all the way from London. So he told her…

It would be difficult to overstate just how much I loved The Absolutist. I loved it for it’s grainy black-and-white-movie feel, like an old British film from the ‘40s. I loved that Boyle teased out just enough information throughout this book to make me think I’d figured out what had happened to Tristan and Will (I didn’t!). I loved the mixture of horrific brutality and insanely beautiful prose. And I loved the ending, which made me gasp, gasp, and gasp again.

The Absolutist starts a tad slow, but don’t let that deter you from reading this absolutely stellar book. Start it, stick around and you soon won’t be able to let it go. That’s something I’m absolutely certain off. •

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 27, 2012.