by John Boyne
(David Fickling Books)
Some small books cleverly conceal the magnitude of their contents, especially one that must be elusive in order to preserve the intricacies of the story. There is little about the blurb to suggest the scope concealed within these pages. Boyne is a young Irish writer, based in Dublin, who has chosen a setting distant in time but universal in impact, and the reader is simply informed that the novel is about a boy, Bruno, and a friendship, and it merits your attention. It is a brave attempt to undersell, because the very essence of the tale rests within a knowledge the child cannot own. It also betrays the publisher's justified assurance of the book's potency.
This could be viewed as a child's novel for adults, but it hits wide of that remit. The older the reader, the greater the sense of evil that is brought to the unfolding events. What we slowly realise, Bruno relates but does not grasp. To him the world is just as it seems. I read on with an increasing level of nagging unease. Something was bound to go darkly wrong, though I couldn't figure how, and then it just happened. Even now it saddens me, for I know this simple parable has transpired in many different ways, but with an equally pathetic outcome. Innocence deserves better.
There is a strange and haunting beauty to Boyne's fable. It is a masterpiece of simplicity and restraint. He never allows the gathering darkness to overshadow the child's unspoilt perspective. Children don't imagine such horror, and the nature of Boyne's resolve is that no adult should either. Sadly, this is not the way of the world. This book has the power to change perspectives, but as with most works of this kind, it is likely to be read by those who do not require such a transformation in their outlook. This sad reality in no way diminishes its power.
As the darkness closes in, the children are no more aware than at the start of the story of the true magnitude of what they are experiencing. They hold hands and walk together towards an unspeakable, anonymous, but historic fate. The story encompasses the innocence and beauty that humanity can encompass, but sadly, there are darker hues contained within the human heart. The story is neither sentimental or laboured. It leaves those levels of intensity to the reader.