In War, Anguish, and Hope: John Boyne’s The Absolutist
John Boyne, author of The New York Times best seller, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, once again turns his writing talents to look at the horror of war in The Absolutist, and does so in his intensely close and personal manner. An absolutist is one whose objection to war is above even that of a conscientious objector. He will not serve in support, medical, or any capacity that contributes to the war.
The title for this book could just as easily have been Victims of War. Set during WWI, the story opens and closes in England with much of the action happening in France at the front lines. But everyone, whether in the trenches or at home, is a victim of the war. The fighting is immediate and intense, and so too are the emotions of those in battle. How does one trained to kill negotiate violence? And can it be turned off? How can one harness the ability to take life? What does it take to be a hero?
Tristan and Will are two soldiers, boys really, who meet in training and serve in France together. Tristan is the last of his company to survive, and he looks back in regret at what he has done. He has been ostracized and kicked out of his family home. He has gone to war to belong to something. Will, a parson's son, wants to serve his country, until he sees the senseless cruelty and unchecked violence of his comrades, those on "his side."
War is hell, especially for those involved, and surviving of its aftermath is rarely easy. This story of heroism and betrayal set in the trenches will keep you reading until its extraordinary and unexpected conclusion and stay with you long after you’ve finished.
“Keep it together, yes? For all our sakes.”
I step closer to him and he pats my arm in consolation, leaving his hand there longer than is necessary.
“What did Rigby mean when he said he was sorry to hear about…well, he didn’t finish his sentence.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I say, moving forward in my grief to put my head down on his shoulder, and he pulls me to him for a moment, his hand at the back of my head, and I am almost certain that his lips brush the top of my hair but then Turner and Sergeant Clayton come into sight, the loud voice of the latter complaining about some new disaster, and we separate once again. I wipe the tears from my eyes and look at him but he’s turned away and my thoughts return to my oldest friend, dead like so many others. I wonder why in God’s name I ever went to look at Rich, Parks, and Denchley’s bodies when I could have been in my foxhole all this time, grabbing a few minutes’ sleep, and knowing nothing about any of this, nothing about home or Chiswick High Street, my mother, my father, Peter, or the whole bloody lot of them. “