Book review: A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

I was planning on keeping A History of Loneliness* as my book choice for August and The Year in Books, but I've devoured it in just a few sittings.  Without a doubt, one of the best books I've read this year.

John Boyne is the author of The Boy in Striped Pajamas which I read a few years ago and cried my way through.  I then watched the film, and cried through that too.  Please do add it to your reading list if you haven't already.  So I had a feeling A History of Loneliness would be equally moving.

The book follows Odran Yates, a young Irishman who began training to be a priest in 1972 after his mother believed he had a vocation.  Odran has ideas and hopes for the future.  Forty years later, his devotion to his vocation is being challenged due to revelations that have shocked Ireland, and changed people's respect of, and faith in, the Catholic Church in Ireland.

The story has one of my favourite formats, jumping backwards and forwards in time.  When done well (as it is done well here) it is great for revealing a little bit more of the story each time, going forward and hinting at a consequence, going back and explaining a bit more history.  Over the course of the book, you learn about family tragedies, developing and changing friendships, and the relationships between priests and parishioners.

I have a habit of reading the ends of books first, but one reason I like this format is because that habit doesn't always help me.  Quite early on in the book the reader guesses what is going to happen (especially given the public knowledge about recent scandals in the Church) but it is the gradual revealing of different layers, in different eras, with different characters, that makes it an incredibly moving book, and makes the plot greater than just one character's journey.

I stayed up late reading this, only turning my bedside light off just before two o'clock on Sunday morning as I really couldn't keep my eyes open any longer.  I finished it over breakfast, and now, a couple of days later, I still find myself thinking about it.  I've recommended it to my mum for her book group, as I think there are a lot of points for discussion it raises. 

Aside from that, it's simply a great story, well-written.  Which really isn't simple at all.

A History of Loneliness is published 11.9.14.  I can't recommend it strongly enough - go order it!

*I was given a copy of this book by NetGalley for the purpose of this review.  All words, opinions and photos are, of course, my own.


  1. This sounds like a really interesting book. Would you recommend this over The Boy In ... or are they too different?

    Reading the ending of books first, why?! Does that not ruin it for you? I don't even like reading the blurb as it can ruin books for me x

    1. I'd recommend both books equally. They're entirely different, but seeing as this one isn't published until Sept, I'd go with The Boy...

      I've read the end first for as long as I can remember. Well, I normally read the end about a third of the way through, as chances are by that point you've met most of the main characters. As an example, finding out Mr Smith is dead at the end doesn't help if you don't know who Mr Smith is, or indeed anyone from the Smith family. I think I just don't like surprises. When I bought my copy of the final Harry Potter book at midnight, I read the end whilst in the queue to pay. A little boy behind me said to his mum "that lady's being naughty, she's reading the end!" and I promised him I wouldn't tell anyone what happened, he then said it was okay and I could still buy the book. Thanks, little boy! I did feel really chastised, though. I also have developed a relatively new habit of reading a synopsis online before I read the book. I know not many (any?) people agree with me on this, it's just the way I read, and can't imagine not doing it. I have tried, but it made me uncomfortable. Each to their own!

    2. Haha, I love kids sometimes.

      Goodness, I don't think I know anyone who does that. That must be quite a lot to read, do you then start at the beginning and carry on to the end or do you stop where you started originally? X

    3. So, last night I started reading Persuasion by Jane Austen. I've read a synopsis on line so I have a general overview of the plot (not a proper literary review of the book, just a very general idea of who is who and who marries who, it is Austen after all!). I'm only a few pages in, the whole book is just a few hundred, so probably in a couple of chapters I'll skim the final chapter, and then go back to where I was and continue to read, and then when I reach the final chapter legitimately, I'll read it properly. Writing it, it does sound incredibly bizarre!

    4. Oh lovely, that book is one of my favourites. I hope you enjoy it.

      Wow, that's really different. I've never heard of anyone doing that before. I try to be surprised whenever I read something but saying that I do reread books so I don't always come at something freshly x

    5. I'm enjoying it so far. Haven't read a classic for a while, so it's making a pleasant change x


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