cover image A Ladder to the Sky

A Ladder to the Sky

John Boyne. Hogarth, $27 (358p) ISBN 978-1-984-82301-4

This evocative saga from Boyne (The Heart’s Invisible Furies) presents the Machiavellian literary success of Maurice Swift. In the late 1980s, Swift is an aspiring writer working as a waiter in West Berlin when he meets acclaimed author Erich Ackermann. Despite Swift’s inexperience, Ackermann is besotted by Swift’s beauty and coy sycophancy and employs him as his assistant. In a fruitless effort to win Swift’s affections, Ackermann entrusts him with his darkest secret: in 1939, information he gave SS officers led to the deaths of five people. Swift then uses Ackermann’s stories as the basis of a commercially successful novel, and to incriminate Ackermann. But Ackermann is just his first victim, and for the next 30 years, Swift’s ruthlessness flourishes as he manipulates others’ sexual desires and talents to further his literary career. Swift’s story spans the fall of the Berlin Wall to the present day as his career’s demise is related from the perspectives of Ackermann; a fictionalized Gore Vidal; Swift’s wife, novelist Edith Camberley; and finally Swift himself. In his relentless pursuit of literary canonization, despite creative impotence, Swift is an enthralling yet profoundly disturbing protagonist. Boyne’s fast-paced, white-knuckle plot, accompanied by delightfully sardonic commentary on the ego, insecurities, and pitfalls of those involved in the literary world, makes for a truly engrossing experience. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment. (Nov.)