A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne review – deliciously dark

John Boyne has created an irresistible protagonist in this story of an aspiring young writer who will stop at nothing to succeed

As Picasso is once supposed to have said: good artists copy; great artists steal. It’s a motto by which Maurice Swift, the sociopathic and mesmeric antihero of John Boyne’s latest novel might well live his life.

Maurice is an aspiring young writer working as a hotel waiter in West Berlin in 1988 when he meets celebrated German novelist Erich Ackermann. Erich, a 65-year-old gay man who “had long ago given up on the idea of romance”, is our narrator for the first section of the novel. Intoxicated by Maurice’s “powerful blend of vitality and impulsive sexuality”, Erich invites the younger man to assist him on his international book tour, during which Maurice teases from Erich the story of his youth in Nazi Germany, his unrequited love for a ...