A brutally dark and realistically gripping book about stories, writing, publishing, and ambition.
I wouldn’t have stumbled upon this book if it weren’t for my Goodreads friend—Manju—who recommended it to me saying: “I know this is farthest from what you usually read but do give this a try. You won’t regret it. :)” And word by word she’s right. I haven’t heard of the name John Boyne until a month ago, I’m not a reader of contemporary or literary fiction; I usually end up putting them in my DNF pile or rating them lower than 3 stars but this book was an exception, it was simply brilliant and it worked really well for me. The next two paragraphs isn’t a spoiler from the book but an unfortunate event that happened to me years ago. In my opinion, this will give you a general idea of the kind of story you’re getting in this book.
“Everyone has secrets. There’s something in all our pasts that we wouldn’t want to be revealed…And that’s where you’ll find your story.”
I used to work as a marketer in an insurance company because one of my closest cousins invited me to be his underling. I won’t go into details on how the overall job went, I’ll get to the conclusion immediately. A few months after I joined, I landed a client which instantly landed me a commission of $400 per month for two years. Back then, in my country, this was a good income for a new employee. Needless to say, I was very happy about it. However, little did I know that I have missed an opportunity to double that income to $800 per month for two years long; that’s equivalent of $9600 missed opportunity. As it turns out, there were two options given to my cousin:
- Inform me that I should wait a month before I close the deal. By doing this, I would be getting that $800 per month commission instead of $400. Of course, this would be the most beneficial option for me but this option would delay his promotion by a year.
- Keep the information about the double income opportunity hidden from me. Instead, he told me to submit it as soon as possible without any delay in order for him to be promoted instantly. This option resulted in my income staying at $400 without me knowing anything about the double income chance. Hence, I lose $9600 and he’ll get the promotion a year faster, with better income for him.
As you can probably guess, he chose the second option. I only found out about the missed opportunity from my co-worker months after my cousin’s promotion. You see? It didn’t matter how close we were, we grew up together, have gone through a lot of hardships but in the end, he chose to use me as a stepping stone for his promotion and career. $9600 is not small money and after this incident, I left the job and haven’t talked to him again.
A Ladder to the Sky tells this kind of story; a story that prioritized ambition over everything else, showing that if you don’t have a shred of conscience or empathy, it may truly be that easy to grab success or stardom. The story in this book revolves around Maurice Swift’s rise to success from a waiter to the most highly praised novelist of the generation.
“There are people who will sacrifice anyone and anything to get ahead, after all. They’re rather easy to spot if you know the signs to watch out for.”
The book was extremely well-written. Although Maurice is the main character of the story, we didn’t get to read from his POV until the last 30% of the book. In the first 70%, we get to know Maurice and his destructive actions exclusively through other character’s POV. This storytelling decision made the pacing of the book incredibly hard to put down. Plus, Boyne handled every characterization spectacularly. It doesn’t matter whether it was third person, first person, even second person POV, they’re all written superbly. I also must add that Maurice Swift has become one of the most despicable characters in fiction I’ve ever read. I don’t even know if despicable is enough to describe his vile personality. That said, I was utterly compelled to read the devastating horror he unleashed in his path to success.
“You must remember, this is what a writer does. Uses his or her imagination. Tries to understand how it feels to be alive in a moment that never existed with a person who never lived, saying words that were never spoken aloud.”
The minor issue I had with the book was that the beginning of the book took a while for me to get into; I started this book without knowing anything about it and the first 15% of the book felt a bit directionless. However, it was truly necessary for the story to be written that way, once the first part (more or less 25%) of the book ended you’ll know what I mean. I also think that the ending could’ve used more pages, after everything that has happened, it ended too quickly and I found it a bit anti-climactic. These are just minor gripes though, overall I enjoyed reading A Ladder to the Sky immensely. It was a terrific psychological read that dives deep into the dark nature of humanity and ambition without mercy.
“And you’ve heard the old proverb about ambition, haven’t you? “That it’s like setting a ladder to the sky. A pointless waste of energy.”
And it’s true, I mostly agree with it. However, in my opinion, this book shows another meaning to that proverb. The access to the ladder to sky-high success may be available for everyone, but how many are willing to ascend the ladder if each step means stepping on other people’s life and hard work? I won’t get preachy about this topic. Majority of people, me included, craves success and we should keep on striving for it. But please keep in mind that in our road to success, remember this: Sic transit Gloria Mundi (All glory is fleeting). I genuinely think that behind all the chaos that unfolds in the story, the true lesson and positive message that can be taken from the book is that wealth and success mean little if it equal to not having anyone to share it with.
Once you’ve read this book, observe the US edition (by Hogarth Press) cover art once again.
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)