Tristan Sadler survived the war. He lied about his age in order to join up and he spent months training and then living the horrors of trench warfare. His first day at training, he met Will Bancroft and the two of them became closest friends. Will did not live. As the novel opens a number of years after the war, Tristan is traveling from his home to deliver a bundle of letters to Marian, Will's sister. But this task, which could easily have been delegated to the postal service, is just an excuse. In truth Tristan is taking the letters to Marian in order to expunge himself of guilt, to detail the truth of Will's final days, and perhaps to seek Marian's absolution.
Tristan's narration takes the reader into his wartime experiences and the agonizing friendship he maintained with Will from their earliest days in training up to the very end. He details his attraction to the outgoing and appealing Will and his jealousy when Will starts to listen to and internalize the reasoned arguments of another man in their unit about his concientious objector status. Tristan doesn't spare Marian, and by extension the reader, the knowledge of his own terrible falling out with his family and its causes which add depth to his growing attachment to Will. He quietly admits to his own worst and basest feelings. He describes the horrors of war graphically and unsentimentally. And he confronts both the moral ambiguities and absolutisms that abound in times of war and the ways in which men justify adherence to either.
With themes of courage and cowardice, honor, friendship, social norms and prejudices, and sexual identity, Boyne has crafted a skillfully written, thought provoking novel. The narrative is non-linear, with Tristan revealing snippets of his training experiences, the war, his several years post-war admissions to Marian, and his current day old age each at precisely the right moment to complicate and add depth to his tale. The tension builds steadily and perceptibly as more comes to light during the telling and while the climax is, by the time it is revealed, not surprising, it remains powerful, tolling the death of so many high minded-values we claim to hold dear. Powerful and affecting, The Absolutist is a novel not to be missed.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.