Irish novelist John Boyne is best known as the author of the YA novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which takes place at Auschwitz during WWII. In his latest novel, The Absolutist (Other Press), Boyne provides a graphic account of what life was like for British soldiers in the trenches during WWI.
What inspired you to write The Absolutist?
I was watching a news report on the BBC. A monument was being erected to the soldiers who lost their lives in the first World War. The descendants of the soldiers were there to mark the occasion. But, there was another group there, the descendants of young men who were shell-shocked in the trenches and had been shot because of that, or conscientious objectors who had been executed. They were quite offended that the lives of their young men were not being marked or honored in any way. It struck a chord in me. I’ve read a lot about the first World War, but I’d never read about that.
What is an absolutist?
There were some conscientious objectors who would do some things in the war effort, such as working in hospitals, working on farms. An absolutist would do nothing at all, would refuse to contribute in any way to the war effort. One of the two boys in the novel, Will Bancroft, is a soldier in northern France. He is fighting, but an event takes place that pushes him over the edge. He puts his gun down and refuses to do anything more concerning the war effort. He becomes the absolutist of the title.
What statement are you making about war?
There’s something about the nature of objecting to war and the way one is treated when one does. A lot of this novel concerns how Will’s own family is treated back at home [in Norwich, England] when he takes his stance. People try to glorify war, particularly those who aren’t actually fighting in them. People tend to make heroes of those who are fighting in them. I am opposed to war, to killing people, to any kind of hatred and violence.
What are you working on now?
I have a children’s book, The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket, that’s coming out in the U.K. in August and in the States next year. It’s about a family that doesn’t want anybody to do anything different. And then they have a child, Barnaby, who floats. I move between the two: I write an adult novel and then I write a children’s book. I quite enjoy that. It’s a nice change of pace each time. It’s a wonderful thing to write for children.