John Boyne, among many things, is an adventurous writer, and by that I don’t mean he writes adventure stories – despite the title of this one; he is adventurous in what he choses to write and how he writes. His books have included historical figures and events, stretching time, multi-narratives, contemporary issues, varying sexualities, hysterically funny scenes, teary climaxes, novels for adults as well as young readers. The Congress of Rough Riders (2001) is a double narrative; one concerns the latter life of William Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, the other concerns his great-grand son, also William Cody, but born in England and who forever is trying to separate his contemporary life from his famous ancestor’s.
However, it is his second published novel, and it feels like it. It is a sweeping saga that sweeps lightly over its subjects. I was engaged and entertained, but not deeply involved. I’ve read his last two works, The Heart’s Invisible Furies (2017), his best (so far), and A Ladder to the Sky (2018); I was deeply involved in both of them – in fact I sank so far into them, especially the former, that I didn’t want them to end. Riders, however, felt like a novel of a writer that was nurturing his talent, gaining confidence, and honing his skills, destined for greater things, which I can confidently tell you, he has.
He also has the enviable skill of looking at a historical event or character from an unusual angle, and if the historical truth doesn’t allow such an angle, well, he alters things a bit so it can. This I feel is the way of a true novelist. His literary palette is boundless, as it should be. He is fearless.
With 17 books in 18 years he is no slouch and having just, this year, discovered him there’s a wealth of writing to uncover.
Watch and listen to John Boyne talk at the Wimbledon Book Festival in 2013 where he is talking to mainly aspiring young novelists in the audience.
For all things John Boyne-ish check out his website.
You can buy the ebook of The Congress of Rough Riders here.