John Boyne is one of the 21st century's finest writers. I have read many books by him over my time. These include but are not limited to: The Echo Chamber, The Heart's Invisible Furies, A History of Loneliness, This House is Haunted, The Absolutist, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom and most recently, Water. As of yet, I am waiting for his novel Earth to come out in 2024, but for now I shall entertain myself with the books I have not yet read. Most recently, I have read his novel Crippen which is a nod to a slightly different genre, crime, in which Boyne investigates how to marry his poetic writing to such a dark topic. The aspect of writing crime is also explored in his novel Water through the second-hand account of Vanessa/Willow and though both are enjoyable, both are still very different in style.
Crippen starts off on a boat journey where Mrs Drake and her daughter, Victoria, meet some real characters after boarding to leave Antwerp. Mr Robinson and Edmund are just two of them whilst Martha Hayes is another. As the book moves into the next chapters, we are thrown back into the past to the wedding of Samuel and Jezebel Crippen. Whilst the reader is not yet sure of how to put one and one together here - the story will move into someone accused of murder and one of them is on the ship. An odd entanglement of events, it seems to be John Boyne's deep dive into crime fiction pulling its head above water once again.
It's quite a wonderful story and I think the best part about it is that every single chaarcter has a reason why you would dislike them and yet, you still end up getting attached to some of them. Characters like Mrs Smythson who is a social climber without any ethical problems regarding the way she pretends to be of the upper class. Then there is Jezebel Crippen who, after her marriage and child, turns so much towards Jesus that she berates her son for reading Scientific American and calls his want to be a doctor the 'devil's work'. Then there is the son himself, Dr Crippen, who marries a failed singer and then when arriving back in London, has not got a clue what to do with his life and so does what he can.
I do think that the best part of this book was the characters and their respective personalities because not only did each of them give the reader a reason not to like them, but each of them were so wholeheartedly human. They made horrid mistakes that they had to carry with them all the time and though their own minds would not allow them to forget, there was something in the air which made them pretend otherwise. The novel is filled with disguises, deceptions and everyone pretending to be something their not. From the outset of Mrs Drake unusually pausing before answering questions about her husband, making the other characters think on it - all the way to the weird backstory of Edmund, the dentist's chair of Dr Crippen and the pretence and facade of Mrs Smythson - each character has something big to hide.
A lot of people may think that this book drags a bit and I understand that there is sometimes an overuse of dialogue where maybe reported speech would have sufficed. However, I cannot fault John Boyne's nature for making a scene seem sped up or slowed down simply by using conversation. It's actually one of the features of his writing that I enjoy despite always saying that I hate lengthy pieces of dialogue or long conversations in literature. I really enjoy it because Boyne manages to bring out the facade in the characters which shields what he has written in their descriptions about who they really are. We would never get this dichotomy otherwise. It is a feature which is also explored in his newest novel (as of yet) named Water.
All in all, if you have not read some of his works already, I can also recommend this one as a great place to dive in.