John Boyne

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
1971- ; b. Dublin; educ. Terenure Coll., Dublin, and grad. TCD; completed East Anglia Univ. MA in creative writing, sharing the Curtis Brown prize with Toby Litt; also winner of the Hennessy Award; worked in Waterstone’s, London; author of The Thief of Time (2000), a novel about a man who stops ageing, dealing with historical events and with characters from both eighteenth and twentieth-century Ireland; also Congress of Rough Riders (2001), based on Buffalo Bill Cody’s life and a that of his grandson-namesake of today; Next of Kin (2008), a tale of aristocratic corruption against the backdrop of the Mrs Simpson scandal;
 
successful with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2006), the story of an unlikely friendship between Schmuel, a Jewish boy in Auschwitz, and Bruno, the son of the Kommandant, translated into 32 languages; filmed successfully by Mark Herman with David Thewlis and Vera Farmiga in lead roles (Miramax 2008); issued The King’s Shilling: A Novel of the Bounty (2008); issued The House of Special Purposes (2009), set in Russia; also Noah Barleywater Runs Away (2010), in which the eponymous eight-year who runs away into a world of talking animals and clocks wants to be told the truth about his mother who is is dying of cancer;
 
issued The Absolutist (2011), a novel dealing with pacifists in WWI; tutored at West Cork Literary Festival, 2011; issued This House is Haunted (2013), a novel that begins with Charles Dickens reading of one of his ghost stories in public; issued A History of Loneliness (2014), the story of a good priest caught in clerical sex-scandal Ireland; issued The Boy at the Top of the Mountain (2015), adventure for children in which a boy called Pierrot from Paris is sent to an aunt who housekeeps for Hitler at Berghof; Boyne lives in Dublin.

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Works
Fiction
  • The Thief of Time (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson [Orion] 2000), 376pp.;
  • Congress of Rough Riders (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson 2001; Phoenix 2002), 328pp.;
  • Crippen (London: Penguin 2004), q.pp.;
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: A Fable (Oxford: David Fickling 2006), 224pp.; Do. [OUP 2006], 215pp.; Do. (London: Definitions 2007), 216pp., and Do. (London: Black Swan 2007);
  • Next of Kin (Penguin 2008), 501pp.;
  • The King’s Shilling: A Novel of the Bounty (2008);
  • The Second Child [Open Door Ser.] (Dublin: New Island Press 2008), 61pp. [for children].
  • The Dare (London: Black Swan 2009), 109pp., and Do. (BBC Audiobooks 2009), 118pp.
  • The House of Special Purpose (London: Doubleday 2009) 493pp.;
  • Noah Barleywater Runs Away, ill. by Oliver Jeffers (Oxford: David Fickling 2010), 240pp.
  • The Absolutist (London: Doubleday 2011), 309pp.
  • This House is Haunted (London: Doubleday 2013), 297pp.
  • A History of Loneliness (London: Doubleday 2014), q.pp.
  • The Boy at the Top of the Mountain (London: Doubleday 2015), q.pp.
Audio
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (London: Random House Audio 1007), 4 CD [5 hrs.] read by Michael Maloney;
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, dir. Mark Herman (Miramax 2008), with Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis, Rupert Friend, Zac Mattoon O’Brien.
Miscellaneous

Reviews incl. John Boyne, ‘The World and Its Wicked Ways’, review of A Death in Summer, by John Banville, in The Irish Times (4 June 2010), Weekend Review, p.10 [available online]; ‘A Kink in the Line of Beauty?’, review of The Stranger’s Child, by Alan Hollinghurst, in The Irish Times (2 July 2011), Weekend Review, p.11; ‘Unsettling study of the greed that tore us apart’, review of The Thing About December, by Donal Ryan, in The Irish Times (19 Oct. 2013), Weekend, p.12.

 

See also ‘John Boyne on Sinéad O’Connor: “I’d been half in love with her for a large portion of my life”’ [authored article] in The Irish Times (25 July 2014), Weekend [available online].

See trailer for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas at the Internet Movie Database [IMdb - online; accessed 02.07.2011].

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Criticism
Interview-article in Books Ireland (Feb. 2008), pp.5-6 [wrote Boy in two-and-a-half days, followed by seven drafts; Captain Bligh ‘quite a good guy’]. (See also extracts from reviews under Commentary, infra.)

See the John Boyne Official Website at www.john boyne.com.

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Commentary
John Kenny, review of Congress of Rough Riders (2001), which follows a namesake and descendent on his travels in Japan, France and America in emulation of the original’s spirit of adventure. mixing a story of love, birth and death of the mother of his child with a mythopoeic revisitation of the earlier period. John Kenny considers Boyne to be ‘currently the most historically and geographically venturesome of young Irish novelists and [...] worth keeping an eye on.’ (The Irish Times [Weekend], 1 Dec. 2001, p.11, with port.).

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See also Niamh Sharkey, review of Noah Barleywater Runs Away, in The Irish Times (9 Oct. 2010), Weekend, p.11.

Sara Keating, ‘A generation lost in the trenches’, review of The Absolutist, in The Irish Times, 21 May 2011), Weekend Review: ‘[...] Over the course of his six previous novels Boyne has forged a niche in the genre of the literary historical novel. In previous works such as Next of Kin, The House of Special Purpose and Crippen, he has meticulously captured both the sensibility and the atmosphere of early 20th-century Europe, particularly Britain. The Absolutist follows suit, placing historical detail against a sensitive exploration of contemporary psychology. Using different timelines and the device of the writer-narrator, he enables a simultaneously immediate and backwards glance on history to emerge. In the mournful Sadler he finds a man more affected by history’s broad-stroke processes than most, and what results is a plaintive lament for forgiveness from a desperately lonely man. / Boyne’s most successful work to date, however, has been the young-adult novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas whose unusual angle on the second World War made an oft-told story eminently new. [...] The Absolutist has similar cinematic potential. / It presents the reader with a vivid visual landscape, and a compelling flawed hero, who is at once central and peripheral to the forceful, forwards-thrusting narrative of revelation. As Boyne gives us [Tristran] Sadler’s subjective gaze through the first-person perspective, so the camera might play with the ambiguity of what Sadler sees as truth and an unwavering morality on the battlefield, and what the film viewer might perceive as a more objective reality.’

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Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, ‘A most agreeable way to get spooked’, review of This House is Haunted, in The Irish Times (25 May 2013), Weekend Review, p.11: ‘[... T]he novel is narrated by Eliza Caine, a young schoolteacher an staunch admirer of Dickens. Set in 1867, it opens with a public reading by the great writer [...] ripping yarn, very readable and highly entertaining, even if oyu have difficulty suspending disbelief [...] Characterisation is one of the novel’s great strengths. All the characters are well drawn, and Eliza is a compelling protagonist, reminiscent of Esther Summerson in Bleak House [...] there are reflections on euthanasia, child abuse and prisons, which seem anacrhonistic but are deftly adapted to the historical context [...] I found it a bit silly but thoroughly enjoyable, at leat until the slash-and-burn Ragnarok of the final sequence [...] lots of the locations are familiar: we have seen the railway station, the crumbling hall, the stables and the London fog hundreds of times on the little screen and the big screen. This novel would work very well on either.’

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Fr. Martin Boland, ‘What does a priest make of John Boyne’s portrayal of Fr Odran Yates?’ [sub-title: ‘Fr Martin Boland compares John Boyne’s portrayal of a cleric unfavourably to the works of Graham Greene, Georges Bernanos, Shusaku Endo, Brian Moore, Andrew O’Hagan and William Peter Blatty’], in The Irish Times (14 Nov. 2104). "[...] In A History of Loneliness, John Boyne inserts his central priest character, Fr Odran Yates, into the pressure chamber of recent abuse scandals in Ireland. The author’s racy narrative - part history lesson, part critique, part satire, part thriller - becomes so dominant that he leaves himself little space to develop the priest’s character. Fr. Odran is a secular invention. He persists as a sociological conceit that provides a convenient literary peg onto which Boyne can hang his case for the prosecution. / Boyne is thus guilty of failing to give Fr. Odran either any kind of interior life or sense of transcendent purpose. For example, his priest never appears to celebrate Mass and is disconnected from the sacramental life of the church. There is little sense of his relationship with his parish. He is allergic to prayer and when Boyne does allow him to pick up a rosary or bible, he uses these for dramatic effect or to nail a rhetorical point. All the talk is about popes, bishops and priests; Jesus Christ barely gets a mention. Fr. Odran Yates is in fact godless. [...] While Boyne’s Fr. Yates is a “dedicated and honest” man, he is never allowed to mature into a fully rounded person. As a priest character, he is spiritually stunted. There is no sense that this man has a vocation, that he is a priest who, in all his human frailty, is nevertheless sustained by the imperceptible movements of grace. If only his psychological character had borne at least some of these spiritual hallmarks, then we may have been blessed with a truly great “priest” novel. There is a serious novel to be written about what it means to be a priest ministering amid the toxic fumes of recent abuse scandals. Sadly, A History of Loneliness is not that book.’ (Available online; accessed 15.11.2014.)

Diarmaid Ferriter, review of Trinity Tales (2016) in The Irish Times (7 Jan. 2017), finding it an ‘enjoyable slice of nostalgia pie’ for Trinity graduates but a source of ‘indigestion’ for others - writing: ‘Thankfully there are a few who do not join in the party, including John Boyne who was “a loner. An introvert. A complete mess.” Struggling to come to terms with his sexuality, he was miserable there and only interested in hurried, anonymous sex.’ (Available online; accessed 08.01.2017.)

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Notes
The Thief of Time (2000): Matthieu Zela has witnessed the murder of his mother by his stepmother in Paris, and the former’s execution in 1758; he flees to London with his Matthieu 5-year old brother Tomas, meeting his his ‘one true love#146;, Dominique Sauvet in passage; he discovers that his body has stopped ageing and that he takes up the spare years of his nephews, who all die at 20; lives in revolutionary France, Papal Rome and experiences the Great Exhibition (1851), the first Olympics (Athens 1896), 1920s Hollywood, the Wall Street Crash, and so forth, attaining personal redemption when he saves his drug-addicted TV soap-star nephew. [after COPAC]

See COPAC references - online [accessed during 2009-10].

The Congress of Roughriders (2001): The narrator William Cody is born in London in 1970 and brought up by his father, Isaac who tells him stories of their shared ancester and William grest-grandfather Buffalo Bill. William leaves home to escape his father in his twenties and becomes a globe-trotting journalist who falls in love with a Japanese woman Hitomi, later murdered; asked by his dying father to help form the Congress of Rough Riders of the World, a remake of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, he eventually does so, bringing along with his own son. The novel takes in details of the Pony Express and the Civil War and a modern historical scenario. [After COPAC.]

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2006): Bruno, the 8-yr old son of the Auschwitz Kommandant, is taken from school to join his family at the camp in 1942; he explores the camp beyond the fence and meets a Jewish boy who is held there; ‘their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences’; a book about a nine-year-old boy but not a book for nine-year-olds [after COPAC].

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Next of Kin (2006): Owen Montignac, scion of a land-owning family, has run up casino debts and is depending on his late uncle’s will, faced with threats from the casino boss Nicholas Delfy; cut out of the will in favour of his beautiful cousin Stella, he proves his cunning against the background of the scandal and crisis of Edward VIII’s affair with Mrs. Simpson in 1936. [after COPAC.]

The King’s Shilling: A Novel of the Bounty (2008): John Jacob Turnstile, a 14-year old on his way to prison takes the king’s shilling and joins HMS Bounty as the captain’s valet; the novel recreates the mutiny and presents an original portrait of Captain Bligh (‘quite a good guy’) and Mr Christian [after COPAC].

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The Dare (2009): At the start of his school holidays, 12-year-old Danny Delaney’s mother returns home one afternoon flanked by two policemen having accidentally hit a small boy with her car. Consumed by guilt, she closes herself off while Danny and his father are left to pick up the pieces of their fractured family.

The House of Special Purpose (2009) tells the story of Georgy Jachmenchev [var. Jachmenev], haunted by the past, who returns to his native Russia that ‘both destroyed and defined him. The 16-year old son of a farmer, he steps in front of an assassin’s bullet intended for a member of the Russian Imperial Family and rewarded with the position of bodyguard to Alexei Romanov, the son of Nicholas II. Georgy is a witness and a participant in a drama leading to the collapse of Revolution and the collapse of autocracy in Russia. Sixty-five years later he visits his wife Zoya dying in a London hospital and revisits the events of that period which changed their lives. Characters include Rasputin.

Noah Barleywater Runs Away (2010): Noah’s mother is ill; when he runs away through a forest he comes across an unusual toyshop with a story full of adventure, wonder and broken promises to tell. (After COPAC.)

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain (2015): ‘When Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his Aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy household at the top of the German mountains. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1936 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler. / Quickly, Pierrot is taken under Hitler’s wing, and is thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets and betrayal, from which he may never be able to escape.’ (Author’s notice - via Facebook; 21.03.1015.)

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