The Absolutist encourages you to think about the importance of acceptance. While I was carefully reading the last pages, it occurred to me that tears had started to appear in my eyes. The contempt towards people because of their convictions or sexuality had caused feelings of resentment and sadness. Although the author had been able to evoke these emotions, I think the ending was too superficial. As the story progresses, Tristan’s burden is carefully unraveled. If the author had also paid more attention to the conflicting ethics or opinions and mixed feelings this secret could have raised after being unburdened, the ending would have given more food for thought. To me, Marian’s reaction lacked complexity and compassion.
One of the weaknesses of the novel’s weaknesses can be its style, which encompasses simple and direct sentences, as this description of warfare shows: “… the sudden bursts of electric sparks signify the dropping of bombs on the heads of German or English or French soldiers.” On the one hand, this adds fluency to the story. To readers who favour a more literary, poetic style, on the other hand, the novel may appear to lack detailed descriptions and a surprising and creative choice of words. Nonetheless, the novel also entails some strong points. One of The Absolutist’s great points is the way the under-exposed theme of conscientious objection and the modern theme of homophobia come together to an unpredictable climax and are clearly expressed in quotes such as “This man refused to fight during this evening’s attack. He will be shot tomorrow morning at six o’clock. That is how we punish cowards.” These quotes made me wonder what braveness actually looks like. Is refusing to fight an expression of braveness? And how should we judge this deed in comparison with the soldiers who did sacrifice their lives the very moment they entered No Man’s Land?
At first I thought the straightforward style of this novel made the story lack complexity. Conversely, I soon realised the author had put much effort in thoughtfully building up the story towards an unforeseeable climax. Besides, Boyne has been able to combine two beautiful, to me, uncommon themes and express them clearly. Lastly, I am of the opinion that the end of the story would have been deeper if the author had paid more attention to the controversy the secret could evoke. All in all, I think The Absolutist is not a complicated, but rather intriguing and moving war story with a surprising and wonderful climax. Other recommendable novels within the same genre of historical fiction are The Ghost Road by Pat Barker and The Charioteer by Mary Renault.