If you look at the bottom of this cover, you’ll see it states, rather simply, “Read by Michael Maloney”. No, my friends, this audiobook is not just “read” by Michael Maloney, it is LIVED by Michael Maloney. Maloney reads it with such gusto, enthusiasm, tenderness, exquiteness that it comes as absolutely no surprise to hear The Absolutist won an Earphones Award by AudioFile for Exceptional Audio Performance. Absolutely. Absolutely exceptional. Listening to The Absolutist left me many times with either tears streaming down my face, heart aching, (just aching) or grinning like a fool cheshire cat.
Included in the description at the back of the audiobook is the following statement, “The Absolutist is a masterful tale of passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal set in one of the most gruesome trenches of France during World War I. This novel will keep listeners on the edge of their seats until its most extraordinary and unexpected conclusion, and it will stay with them long after they’ve finished.”
Oh how true, yes, it will stay with me long after, as it was a deeply affecting story.
We begin the story with a now 21-year-old Tristan Sadler as he boards a train to Norwich to return a packet of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft. Will is a man Tristan trained with in Aldershot and fought with in France. However, the packet of letters is not the sole reason for going to Norwich to meet Marian, for Tristan plans on finally relieving himself of the tale of his and Will’s relationship and what exactly happened over in France when Will was killed. Tristan feels he has worked up enough courage to divulge the truth and cleanse his soul.
The story then begins to alternate from the time Tristan first meets Will in Aldershot, back to Norwich where he sits with Marian and tells his story. His story begins with some of the events that lead him to enlist and finally up to that incredibly tragic time in France when Will is killed. We never learn of how Will is killed, just that he never returned from France. The reader does not find out until the very end, and it happens in a pulse-pounding, highly anxious moment. Actually, of the 20 men Tristan trained with, only 2 survive. Tristan and the one chap that went mad and had to be sent home. It is during these moments when Tristan is sharing details of their training in Aldershot and later in France that you get a fantastic dose of Maloney’s narration and how it simply shines. Gleams? It’s just brilliant whatever the word is that you wish to describe it. Their training sergeant is a man named Clayton. Sgt. Clayton leaps out of the book in all his glory and meanness under Maloney’s brilliant narration. It’s just awesome!
Anyway, the story leading up to Tristan’s training and his developing friendship with Will is a heartbreaking one, for certain. His former relationship with his father and family is forever altered by one quick and small event, and when Tristan relates the farewell moments between him and his father, your heart will be crushed. Just as a side note here, this novel has been listed in the “If You Love Downton Abbey” lists and while I do adore Downton Abbey (wasn’t that season finale horribly heartbreaking?! Why?!) I’m not a great fan of following these lists or the generation/creation of these, but I must confide that I often thought of Thomas when hearing Tristan confide in Marian his heartbreaking tale. For Tristan is gay, and in his relationship with Will Bancroft, he discovers great happiness and self-discovery as well as continued confusion and fierce pain. (However, his true feelings/relationship with Will are never revealed to Marian until the very, very end of the story.)
And, the final moments between Will and Tristan are indeed ones that make your heart pound, and yes, you are definitely at the edge of your seat, breathless, waiting for what is to happen next. The Absolutist comes to a close when Tristan is in his advanced old age, a celebrated novelist, and is met again by Marian. She has come to see him after reading of his award in the newspaper. To confront him? To resolve the past? She doesn’t quite know herself, but it is for certain her one final visit. And it is in these final moments with Marian that Tristan confides that he has remained alone all these years. He has never considered another relationship, has never sought one out, for the one he had with Will is one that is everlasting. It’s truly a heartbreaking end.
John Boyne’s previous novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is also narrated by Michael Maloney. This had me frantically searching for the audio book about halfway through The Absolutist. I found it! I downloaded it! You know I’ll be listening to it, but first, I think my soul needs a wee break. The Absolutist is an amazing story, absolutely amazing. It will most assuredly haunt me for quite some time. Tristan Sadler remains on my mind today. A 5-star read for me.
You must promise that you will do everything to Listen to this story instead of just reading it. You must listen to it! This is absolutely one of those audiobooks that gives the Literary Hoarders every reason to continue their growing obsession and passion about audiobooks. It is a pure listening treat for your ears. Again, Michael Maloney brings this beautiful story to its full life that brims way over the top! You just must listen to it!