The lunchtime reading group met to discuss this months book, The Absolutist by John Boyne. It’s 1919 and the Great War has been over barely a year. A young man Tristan Sadler, is undertaking a train journey to return letters sent to his comrade and friend Will from Will’s sister Marian. Boyne tells the story of two young British Tommies who are bonded by the brutality of basic training in Aldershot and the deeper closeness that binds them during the terrors and horrors of the trenches. Tristan survives but his wounds both physical and mental are livid and raw. Will his closest and dearest friend dies in front of a firing squad. Shot as a coward, a feather man and worse an Absolutist. The group was aware of the term ‘conscientious objector’ but were unfamiliar with the term Absolutist which was a person who withdrew all recognition of war and would have no part in it. Objectors would serve as stretcher bearers, ambulance drivers and suffer an exceptionally high mortality rate in their non-combatant duties. Absolutist’s shunned even that passive role. For Will’s family at home the war has left them cut adrift from neighbours; no-one wants anything to do with a coward and the family at home are tainted with the same cowardice. The group picked up on the books twin themes of courage v cowardice and loyalty v betrayal. The author pulls no punches in his portrayal of what was a horrendous existence in the front line.His description of events are explicit without being gratuitous. The irony of the bravery of the conscientious objectors who served as stretcher bearers even though they would be perceived as cowards forever was very moving. A point which resonated with the group was how very young Tristan was,as he had enlisted underage. Another discussion was centered around the intolerance of the Edwardian era. People could and would be victimized for their sex and sexuality and if you didn’t conform you were labeled as different, odd, degenerate. For the group this reinforced the story of Tristan and Will hiding in the shadows the love they had for each other. Once again it is a book that could be spoilt by giving away too much of the plot. The majority of the group enjoyed the narrative or at least found it gripping although the use of modern idiom was a particular bugbear for some. A number of the group had read Sebastian Faulks Birdsong another book set during those awful times but felt it was difficult to try to compare it to The Absolutist as the themes differed in many places. The majority of the lunchtime reading group would recommend The Absolutist as a moving and at times a heart-breakingly emotional book which leaves you wondering exactly who is a coward and who is a hero? And why any war could be called great.
Borrow The Absolutist