I finished this book this morning and have thought about it on and off throughout today. I have read a number of books by John Boyne, some better than others, but have found them all easy to read. His most famous book is The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas which has been made into a film but which I have not yet read. He has a quiet unobtrusive writing style which gives all his books an easy flow to them. There is no unneeded language to get past to follow the story and I found this a good story.
It is based mainly during the first world war although parts of the story are told from a period just after the war and at the very end many years afterwards. The story concerns the friendship of two privates, Will Bancroft and Tristan Sadler, who train together at Aldershot and then serve together in France. As can be imagined it is not an easy novel to read although it is in many ways a surprising one. I have read many books set in this period but never one with quite this slant. It explores the meanings of courage and cowardice in a bit of a different way to books of this type as well as love and sexuality. I have found it yo be a really worth while read. One I would recommend.
I am about half way through this book and am finding it very easy reading. This is the second John Boyne book I have read, The House of Special Purpose being the first, although he is best known for his young adult book The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas which I have not read. Like other of his books Next of Kin sets personal stories against a backdrop of an important historical event. The House of Special Purpose was set in Russia during the first world war while this novel is set in 1930s London in which the affair of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson is beginning to cause concern.
The main character, Owen Montignac, comes from a wealthy family but finds himself unexpectedly on hard times while owing a great deal of money to one of the London under world. The secondary character, Gareth Bentley, is the son of a reknowned judge who has no desire to follow in his fathers footsteps and is looking for easy money. When Owen is faced with the choice of finding the money or risking "injury to himself and those close to him" action is needed and when he meets Gareth by chance he sees it "like a lamb to the slaughter". Gareth, although from a good family and having been to all the right schools, is not terribly bright and sees life as a bit of a lark. He quite happily allows himself to be drawn into Owen's plans.
Far from difficult to read this is an entertaining book. Probably a bit far fetched, as was The House of Special Purpose, but a good book to read between more demanding novels.
This was a fast paced supernatural story which I picked up on impulse when I was mooching around Waterstones.
It is a period piece set in 1867, which is where my issues start with it as it raises a number of questions as to accuracy. There is a hanging that is mentioned in this book which given the time would probably have been a public hanging, as it wasn’t until 1898 when an act was passed making them behind prison walls. BUT another anomaly in this story is that it states the hanging took place at Norwich prison wasn’t actually opened until 1887, on the site of the Britannia Barracks (the former home of the Royal Norfolk Regiment) and so I believe the hanging would have taken place at Norwich Castle. Finally, I may be picky here but in the 1860s women would normally have worn shawls for additional warmth, not cardigans and some of the language used seems to be very modern and not of the time.
Having said that, it was a fairly entertaining and easy read, but if I had had something else to read I would have probably not been so forgiving. It nods towards Dickens even having a character named Mr Cratchett, and a lot of the characters have a Dickensian feel to them. The main character a young girl who is telling the story is intriguing and likable. I love the opening sentence of this story, “I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father". I read it to the end but I wasn’t overly enthralled by it, I think it was a tribute to the Gothic Victorian mystery, it is atmospheric but it’s not scary.
Hazel 2nd February 2006 12:51 PM
Blurb from Amazon -
This work was set in Berlin, 1942. When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But, Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than what meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.
I am in two minds whether I liked this book ar not. On the plus side, it is a fascinating story and the true horror of the concentration camps is brought to you on a very personal and terrifying level. It makes you see it from the wyes of a child which most holocaust novels fail to do. This makes the events all the more unbearable. The ending is truly a horrific one and one that although you see it coming, doesn't fail to make your mouth fall open.
On the con side, sometimes the writing is a little bit immature, even though the novel is aimed at young teens and possibly a crossover to adults. Sometimes it gets a bit twee. And the style is very reminiscent of Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now - a little too similar to be considered 'novel'.
Still, it is a great story and a great alternative to Anne Frank, if we want to bring the story of the holocaust to young people.
lipstick_librarian 3rd February 2006 02:23 PM
I just finished this yesterday and I still can't decide whether I liked it or not. I was gripped right until the last few pages when the ending became glaringly inevitable. Even though it looks and reads like a children's book, the author does assume a certain amount of reader knowledge about Auschwitz, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. I don't think kids who hadn't already studied this at school would 'get' what was going on at all, and as a School Librarian I would try to encourage kids to wait.
This didn't stop me from blubbing at the end however. Boyne has a style similar to David Almond's I think - very spare while conveying a strong sense of place and character using a child's voice. He doesn't need to go into details to convey the despair and sorrow of Shmuel. It is Bruno's childish observations and comparisons that illuminate the horrors.
But did I like it or not? Hmmm...nowhere near as much as I liked How I Live Now or The Curious Incident, but it's definitely had an impact, and it's a very useful book to have around to support the Holocaust within the National Curriculum.
Hazel 3rd February 2006 03:34 PM
I liked Bruno's mishearings for the Fuhrer (the Fury) and Out With (Auschwitz), a childish thing to think and instantly creates a wry humour as we as readers look at the immaturity of Bruno. Also, adds to the illustration of the social divide between Germans and Jews, in that Bruno has no idea really what these terms are and doesn't even realise what Auschwitz and 'those people' are. His terms also relate heavily to the entity they are depicting. They were a clever little device.
Flingo 2nd April 2006 02:00 PM
Wow! I don't really know what to say about this. What a powerful novel!
I agree with lipstick_librarian - I guesed where it was going long before we got there. I didn't cry, but I can't remmber feeling a bigger sense of foreboding from a book in a long time.
Bruno's mishearings were inspired, although I kept thinking "But he wouldn't relate it like that - he's speaking German, not English"!
I would have liked to know more about Bruno's family too (Why is Gretel a "Hopeless Case"?).
Despite these reservations, I read this is one sitting yesterday, and couldn't leave it for more than a few minutes without wanting to go back to it.
An article in The Bookseller quotes John Boyne saying that he wrote it in one sitting too - he started on a Wendesday and finished on Friday lunch time. He also tested it on his 12 year old nephew before sending it out to anyone, and that helped him guage what extra details to add in on the later drafts.
As I say in my opening sentence this is powerful stuff.
Hazel 11th April 2006 06:40 PM
I think with his English appropriations we are supposed to surmise that as with everything the Germans were afforded every luxury, right and privilege. And with that entails a proper education - which means that Bruno may have been multilingual, though obviously his inner thoughts are his mother tongue. However, I am sure Hitler and cohorts would not have encouraged anything but German to be used and taught - especially a German perspective of history - so I agree Flingo it doesn't really tie up. Maybe English was a tolerated lingua franca to converse with their many POWs. I guess someone with knowledge in this area would enlighten us!
I also agree that the plot was pretty powerful stuff especially in a 'children's' book - but children can cope with the dark side of life alot better than we adults think!
What did you think of the writing though? Have you read Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now? Did you think it compared?
Despite my misgivings of this book, I have kept it on my bookshelves curiously.
Flingo 14th April 2006 07:29 PM
I agree that the writing was very strong - and Boyne's voice clearly came through as his inner child! Bruno was quite impetuous, even in his head!
I have read How I Live Now*, but wasn't sure that that lived up to the hype. I read it before it was published, and although I remember some of Daisy's (?) tale, much of it is very vague. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is much stronger and I think will stay with me for longer.
*Interestingly, I see there is no thread for Rosoff, despite quite a few mentions elsewhere, so I will go and start one!
belwebb 16th June 2006 05:35 PM
I read this about a month ago. The cover is the distinctive blue and white stripe print of pyjamas. The back cover states that, whilst it is a story of a young boy, it is, apparently, a book for adults. I would disagree and say it was suitable for all age groups. Despite Boyne being an Irish writer this book is about the holocaust. It's a deceptively simple story with a sting in the tail. Can be read in a few hours. Recommended.
Flingo 16th June 2006 06:56 PM
The cover states does not say it is a book for adults, but that it is not a books "for nine year olds". We have it in our 11Up collection at work, and I agree with that. A younger child wouldn't get the concentration camp connections.
katrina 6th July 2006 09:51 PM
I also read this novel in one sitting, I went out and brought it straight after getting home from work, one of the pupils had had to read part of this today to me and had described the story, her reading and description of it inspired the purchase. I have to say she is 12 and she said she thought the place over the fence was a concentration camp, apparently they haven't studied ww2 yet, so I'm also guessing she wouldn't have understood Out-With and The Fury. Although a second child was also supposed to be reading this book and he's in the top 5 in his year, and his response was - why would I want to read about a 9 year old called Bruno! He usually only reads things like the Divinci Code apparently!
I thought that the cover was one of the most poweful hins, esp the blurb on the inside cover. The writing was kept simple which made it powerful, I have recently finished How I Live Now and I can't say I linked the writing styles myself. I thought this was a good way of bringing the horror of the concentration camps to kids, but it did assume a knowledge of this piece of history, which I don't think is taught till Year 8 or 9 in any depth.
From the kids books I'm reading lately it seems the Harry Potter, kids book with adults in mind, is becoming more popular (JKRowling hit on that at first by mistake, now its aimed at), I wonder if that effects the subjects chosen for authors to read about. Personally I enjoy reading kids books but I do wonder if it has an effect, kids get the surface level, adults delve deeper. I reckon this book will end up a Keystage 3 reader for most schools, I definately will read it to my form group at some point.
Has anyone read Crippen by John Boyne? It's a fictionalised account of the notorious tabloid murder case which ended in a transatlantic chase by Scotland Yard detectives. Told from Crippen's point of view, it gives another perspective on the crime and allows the reader to see him as a human being, rather than the monster he has been protrayed as all these years. As well as being a suspensful and thrilling read it has moments of comedy too. Highly recommended.