A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

A Ladder to the Sky

John Boyne

Sweeping across the late twentieth century, A Ladder to the Sky is a fascinating portrait of a relentlessly immoral man, a tour de force of storytelling, and the next great novel from an acclaimed literary virtuoso.

Access the hottest new Penguin Random House books months before they hit the shelves.

Sign In or Join Today


Sign me up to receive news about John Boyne.

Place our blog button on your blog to let people know you are a member of this great program!

A seductive, unputdownable psychodrama following one cunning, ruthless man who will stop at nothing in his pursuit of success

“Clever, chilling, and beautifully paced; a study of inner corrosion that Patricia Highsmith herself could not have done better.”  -- The Times (London)

Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for fame. The one thing he doesn’t have is talent – but he’s not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don’t need to be his own.
Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann. He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful – but desperately lonely – older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war. Perfect material for Maurice’s first novel.

Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high. Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall…
Sweeping across the late twentieth century, A Ladder to the Sky is a fascinating portrait of a relentlessly immoral man, a tour de force of storytelling, and the next great novel from an acclaimed literary virtuoso.

Advance Galley Reviews

Wow. I just finished this book and my heart is still going after keeping me on the edge of my seat for the entirety of the time I was reading it. Right away, this book hooked me and wouldn’t let go. This is my second John Boyne novel, my first being “The Heart’s Invisible Furies”, which I really enjoyed (there’s even a little reference to this novel somewhere in the book, which was cool to find). Set between the 1980’s to modern-day in various locations such as London, Berlin, New York City, and others, “A Ladder To The Sky” tells the story of an aspiring writer named Maurice Swift. He goes to any means possible to achieve his two life goals: to become a successful writer and to become a father. Even if it means destroying the lives of those who care about him or try to help him out. What I really enjoyed in this novel was not only the concise and witty writing, but also how the character of Swift evolves and you grow to pretty much despise this guy. I enjoyed reading this multi-dimensional story from the various viewpoints, from the people who encountered and suffered at the hands of Maurice, to third-person interludes, and ultimately to Maurice himself. This book ends up being quite cyclical in terms of character arc and plot. You can’t help but wonder if Maurice is ever going to be brought down. One shocking event after another is paced wonderfully throughout this book, and I never felt like any part of the story was too short or drawn-out. The ending was extremely satisfying as well and was a perfect ending to summarize all of the events beforehand. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s a gripping novel that keeps you riveted for what happens next. I look forward to reading more novels by Boyne in the future, and I definitely recommend this book. Thanks so much, First to Read, for letting me read this in advance in exchange for an honest review!

Enter the world of Maurice Swift at your own risk: John Boyne's despicable protagonist is your garden variety sociopath... who happens to be a writer. A LADDER TO THE SKY is a dark and twisted tale of a man who will stop at nothing to become world renowned. At times, Boyne's sardonic portrait feels like a pointed jab at "real" acclaimed writers who perhaps aren't as talented as one might think. It also shines a light on literary appropriation: who does a story really belong to until it is written? In the case of Maurice Swift, a mercurial, charming deviant, we are introduced to a would-be writer who can craft a great sentence yet has no imagination of his own and must beg, borrow and steal ideas, stories and entire manuscripts from others to achieve success. Along the way he commits unspeakable acts, crimes so heinous you may feel the need to scrub your hands with a good anti-bacterial soap after reading. Boyne's own writerly craft is admirable in the telling of this unsavory story. Wisely, he avoids Maurice's point of view until the very last chapter. The path to Maurice's dubious success, the so called "ladder to the sky", is narrated by his victims along the way with one famous real-life literary great, (guest appearance by an acerbic Gore Vidal), the only person who recognizes Swift's duplicity. John Boyne has written a real page-turner here and I could certainly see a film adaptation or limited series being made from it, although Hollywood would likely steer the ship away from writers and make it about actors or politicians, something with more commercial appeal. A LADDER TO THE SKY is overall an entertaining read. At times the reader must suspend belief and swallow the fate of these wool-eyed victims - How could they not see this guy for what he is? - and the precocious interrogator towards the end is a bit improbable - How exactly did he gain access and connect the dots, seriously? But that being said, I'd recommend this book to anyone in search of a villain to abhor. ***Thank you to Pengiun Random House for a digital ARC of this novel in exchange for a candid review.***

Maurice Swift is the most loathsome protagonist, and I was smitten with his vileness. John Boyne has created another masterpiece with Ladder to the Sky. Maurice, self-centered beyond redemption, is an aspiring writer. The barrier to his success is that he lacks the talent of original thought. Blessed with movie star good looks, Maurice charms older, esteemed writers into becoming his mentors, using them for what he can, then dumping them, often with devastating consequences. As the novel progresses, Maurice’s ambition grows into a monster that he must keep feeding. John Boyne is a rare author who has created such a despicable main character who also captures the reader’s enthusiasm. Maurice’s shamelessness is juxtaposed with his victims’ inexplicable adoration which creates tension that never waivers. The ending is a resounding smash. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Penguin First to Read for this advance copy in exchange for my review.

"There's something in all our pasts that we wouldn't want to be revealed. And that's where you'll find your story." Maurice is a man without a conscience who always knew that he wanted to be a writer and a father. It would take him a while to become a father, but the writing started early and he was pretty good at it, once he found a story. When he was 15 he learned that he could exchange sex, or the promise of sex, for stories and that skill served him well. "Maurice is whatever he needs to be, whenever he needs to be it." The darker this book became, the more I liked it. It was a mix of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "All About Eve". The book is broken into parts focused on several of Maurice's novels, but some of my favorite things in the book are in two "interludes". That's where there is some of the more outrageous satire of the literary scene. The interlude in which he visits the Italian home of Gore Vidal is particularly delicious. Actually, it made me want to read some Vidal. I didn't really enjoy myself the last time I tried to read this author, but I'm very glad that I gave him another chance because I liked this book a lot. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Ambition is generally seen as a positive thing, but when a necessary component, such as talent, is missing as it is for one character in A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne, the path to success and fame can be filled with manipulation.  A handsome and charming man, Maurice Swift believes that he is destined for great things, if only it weren't for his lack of talent. Undeterred by a key component to creative success, Maurice manages to befriend and benefit from the stories that other writers tell about their lives or generic plots they have yet to develop into a novel. Starting off his cycle of appropriating other people's ideas is a chance encounter with author Erich Ackermann in 1988, where Maurice was able to ingratiate himself into his life as an assistant for Erich's latest book tour and slowly tease out an incredibly personal war story that he later uses for his well-received book. Having experienced the glories of literary success, Maurice continues to find ways to continue capturing that high, deceiving and manipulating many people along the way. A detestable character and an engaging plot drive this story that's comprised of well-crafted prose. Covering a wide range of time, the narrative demonstrates the lengths, sometimes extreme, that Maurice has gone, and is willing to go to, in order to secure the level of notoriety he believes he deserves from writing and within the publishing industry. While the three parts of the novel work well together to create a cohesive representation of Maurice at the end, when initially reading through I found that the perspectives of Erich and Maurice's wife Edith were tonally so distinct that they greatly impacted the pacing and felt as if they belonged to a different story altogether.  Overall, I'd give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

I had never read anything by John Boyne previously but was intrigued by the synopsis. The book does not disappoint. It is deftly written and engrossing. It was difficult to grasp the tone entirely at first and certainly the section in Edith's voice is tough but if you enjoy a portrait of a true narcissist, it is a perfect case study. I would definitely like to read more of his books.

Wow what a story! Maurice who will and does sell his soul to be a successful writer. A couple of the twists in the plot made me grasp with surprise and shock. It’s a sad and demented tale. I found it odd how the author is able to draw you into Maurice’s story even as despicable as he is. I kept hoping he would learn his lesson but he doesn’t. Thank you to First To Read and Penguin Random House for another great ARC.

A Ladder to the Sky is a somewhat interesting tale of an unprincipled, manipulative would-be novelist who really has no talent for fiction. Rather he cannibalizes the individuals who he gets close to for their stories in his single-minded pursuit of literary fame and glory. Although he may make for a fascinating case study, the main character here clearly is not someone you would want to know. Interesting book, not particularly to my taste however.

Wow! I am amazed at all of the despicable characters trying to climb the ladder of success in John Boyne’s latest novel, A Ladder to the Sky. Maurice Swift is especially evil as a young and older novelist who preys on other writers to find, steal and murder for the purpose of being well-known among authors. John Boyne does an excellent job of transitioning from one time period to another in this excellent novel.

I’ve read several of John Boyne’s books so thought I’d give this one a try. At first, I wasn’t hooked but thought I’d stick with it a little longer. I’m glad I did. Maurice Swift is a despicable human being which makes him very interesting. You know how authors are always asked ‘Where do you get your ideas’? That question may have well been the inspiration for this book as we learn where Maurice gets his ideas.

I had never read anything by John Boyne but I was very intrigued by a blurb mentioning a Highsmith-esque story. I was taken by the story from the first page. The plot moved quickly and the literary references throughout made me either feel well-read when I "got" the reference or unread when I didn't. Maurice's character kept me engaged as a reader in terms of what he'd do next, and as an optimist with the hopes that he would develop a conscience. I love books that make me think about right and wrong and good and evil. Obviously, I was dissecting Maurice's character throughout the book, but I also thought extensively about Erich's character.

I enjoyed “A Ladder to the Sky.” The plot held my attention, and I particularly appreciated the different forms of each section. The seamless prose and realistic (often humorous) dialogue helped to maintain narrative momentum. While the central character, Maurice, strains credibility at times, his portrait fits with the general tone of the novel, which caricatures litererary aspiration. I also think that this novel is a good book club pick because members could debate the morality (or lack thereof) of several characters. This was my first John Boyne but won’t be my last.

A Ladder to the Sky is about one man's ruthless climb to become a famous writer and the lives he ruins on his way to the top. I loved the pace of the novel, the little details the author weaves into the story, and the different perspectives of narrators given all revolving around the main protagonist, Maurice. Maurice so desperately wants to be a famous writer. He is young, beautiful, charismatic and has a way with words but is cursed with no imagination. He couldn't create a plot to save his life and many of his original stories are terribly bland and un-publishable. This does not stop him from doing all he can to rise to fame, just pushes him to find interesting plots in other ways, even if he didn't come up with them on his own. The author navigates us through his not so humble beginnings and lets us examine the life of Maurice and the monster he becomes along his road to fame. I hated this character but i couldn't stop reading because i had no way of knowing how this story would end.. so on and on I read and was increasingly become more troubled with what I found. It was brilliant though. I really enjoyed this book and I really enjoyed hating Maurice. John Boyne is such a gifted novelist, his storytelling capabilities are clearly evident withing the first chapter. I own one of John Boynes other novels and after reading A Ladder to the Sky, i can't wait to enjoy more of his writing style. Highly recommend this book.

My thought A ladder to the sky is an extraordinary read. The writing flows, the prose is beautiful, the characters are well developed. Elegant comes to my mind, an elegant delivery of words. The ruthless driven protagonist Maurice, is a joy to behold, watching him play his victims without scruples, helpless in his greedy youthful fingers. No doubts hinder his way to become the next literary genius. In a chapter which takes Maurice to La Rondinaia. an exchange between Gore Vidal and Maurice is pure genius in the hands of John Boyne author of A ladder To the Sky. A must read!

A Ladder to the Sky is the first John Boyne book I have read and was unsure what to expect. At the start, I almost put the book down thinking that somehow I picked up a gay romance novel. It is not and turned into an engaging story. Maurice Swift is a man of great ambition and little talent but aspires to be a novelist. He leaches on to talented people and tosses them away when he is finished. Swift builds his career and lives on the creativity of others. There is no real action of excitement in the book, but it flows seamlessly cover to cover. Maurice is cold and calculating, and although it is told by several points of view, it reads like a confession. A Ladder to the Sky is a book that is difficult to put down and hard to classify.


More to Explore

  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
  • The Heart's Invisible Furies
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Deluxe Illustrated Edition)
  • The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket

Copy the following link