Ambition is the ladder to the sky that Maurice Swift is climbing. All his life he’s longed to be a successful writer, breaking away from a bucolic upbringing where the most that was expected was that he would become a plumber like his dad. Maurice is clever and he can write – the only problem is that he has no imagination. Well then, he has to get his stories from someone else. Maurice doesn’t draw the line at revealing a close friend’s shameful secret, pinching ideas from short stories submitted to the magazine he edits, or even pinching an entire novel and passing it off as his own. He directs his charm and good looks towards making useful contacts in the publishing world, picking up and discarding lovers as he goes, ruining more than one life without a backward look. Yes, Maurice is a shit. But what’s it all for, in the end?
Part 1 is written in the voice of Maurice’s first victim, the German novelist Erich Ackerman, Through his eyes we see a charming, modest young man who seems unaware of the effect he’s having on the yearning homosexual Erich. Poor Erich’s view of Maurice is sharply countered by an interlude in which Gore Vidal pops up, shrewdly diagnosing exactly what Maurice is up to. Part 2, some years later, is in the voice of Maurice’s wife Edith. Edith has published an acclaimed first book and is now teaching in the celebrated writing course at the University of East Anglia, while Maurice has never been able to recapture the success of his first book. And finally in part 3 the voice is Maurice’s. It’s appropriate that when we do finally hear his undisguised voice everything begins to fall apart. It’s a very clever resolution with a thoroughly satisfying ending.
I haven’t read any of John Boyne’s other books, but he’s written a lot, including The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas which was made into a successful film.