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A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
Literary fiction

A Ladder to the Sky

Repeat author

John Boyne is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include The Heart's Invisible Furies.

by John Boyne

Excellent choice

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Quick take

From our 2017 Book of the Year winner, a literary drama about a young writer willing to do anything to attain his place among the greats.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Unreliable

    Unreliable narrator

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Literary


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Unlikeable

    Unlikeable narrator


Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for success. 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 ...

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of John Boyne's A Ladder to the Sky.
A Ladder to the Sky


West Berlin

From the moment I accepted the invitation, I was nervous about returning to Germany. It had been so many years since I’d last been there, after all, that it was difficult to know what memories might be stirred up by my return.

It was the spring of 1988, the year the word “perestroika” entered the language, and I was seated in the bar of the Savoy Hotel on Fasanenstraße, contemplating my sixty-sixth birthday, which was only a few weeks away. On the table before me, a bottle of Riesling had been decanted into a coupe glass that, a note in the menu revealed, had been modeled on the left breast of Marie-Antoinette. It was very good, one of the costlier wines on the hotel’s expansive list, but I felt no guilt in ordering it for my publisher had assured me that they were content to cover all my expenses. This level of generosity was something new to me. My writing career, which had begun more than thirty-five years earlier and produced six short novels and an ill-advised collection of poetry, had never been successful. None of my books had attracted many readers, despite generally positive reviews, nor had they garnered much international attention. However, to my great surprise, I had won an important literary award the previous autumn for my sixth novel, Dread. In the wake of The Prize, the book sold rather well and was translated into numerous languages. The disinterest that had generally greeted my work was soon replaced by admiration and critical study, while the literary pages argued over who could claim credit for my renaissance. Suddenly I found myself invited to literary festivals and being asked to undertake book tours in foreign countries. Berlin was the location for one such event, a monthly reading series at the Literaturhaus, and although I had been born there, it did not feel like home.

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Why I love it

Nothing can stop a ruthless writer hellbent on success in this suspenseful literary drama—John Boyne’s first offering since the 2017 Book of the Year, The Heart’s Invisible Furies!

After decades of obscurity, author Erich Ackermann is finally earning his rightful acclaim. While in Berlin, he meets a handsome struggling writer named Maurice Swift. Longing for a companion after so many years alone, Ackermann takes Swift on as an assistant. But Swift has his own motives, specifically, transforming Ackermann’s long-guarded, shameful past in Nazi Germany into a splashy reputation-destroying “fictional” work of his own. And once Swift gets a taste of fame, he will stop at nothing for more ...

What didn’t I love about this book??? Anyone familiar with Boyne’s previous novels knows his characters are generally warm, empathetic if a bit lonely, and relatable. But Swift is the polar opposite—an amazing villain, devious and driven. As he concocts one suspenseful scheme after another, I found myself unable to look away. In this twisted, complex novel, Boyne has created a character you’ll love to hate and a thrilling story you can’t help but love.

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Member ratings (4,353)

  • Yenny D.

    Fairfax, VA

    Another brilliant work by John Boyne - this time it’s a book about books. What’s not to love? The book recounts the tale of a man who’ll do whatever it takes to succeed in the literary world. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Marine A.

    Los Angeles, CA

    As engrossing as ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ but very different. It’s like watching a train wreck happen and being unable to look away or understand how the conductor can be so callous and selfish.

  • Julie A.

    Houston, TX

    This book is one of the best I have read this year. Scary that there are individuals that live by Picasso’s/Maurice’s motto “good artists copy, great artists steal.” Are our ideas really our own?

  • DeCamp J.

    Jacksonville, FL

    Perfect book to read one section, put it down and come back to it over time. Definitely diabolical, fantastic twists, worthy characters. It’s hard to root for a villain, but you’ll admire his audacity

  • Bridget R.

    Regina, SK

    This was well written and the story was very engaging. Job well done by the author to write in 5 distinct voices as the story went. I particularly enjoyed the chapters by fictional Gore Vidal. 4.5/5⭐️

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