The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is one of those commercially successful cross-over books, originally written for children but now read by adults, that has been lauded by the critics and nominated for countless awards. It even has its own wikipedia entry.
I knew little about the book when I bought it, save that it was about the Holocaust and was written by an Irishman. The blurb on the back gave even less away:
The story of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is very difficult to describe. Usually we give some clues about the book on the cover, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book. We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about. If you do start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy called Bruno. (Though this isn’t a book for nine-year-olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence. We hope you never have to cross such a fence.
Initially, I thought the book was probably too simple for my tastes and wondered whether it was worth the effort. It didn’t take long for the short, sparse sentences and the repetitive nature of some of the phrases to wear thin. But once I got past the half-way mark, I began to feel soothed by the rhythm of the writing.
I also noted that the plot was not as straightforward as I might have thought and that there were little surprises dotted along the way. Of course, the biggest surprise — nay shock — is right at the end, although I won’t give it away. Let’s just say it’s a memorable and devastating one, and if you can reach the end without a big lump forming in your throat there may just be something wrong with you.
All in all, this is a simple book about big themes, and quite unlike any other Holocaust novel I have read before. The killer punch delivered in the final pages means I will be thinking about this story in the days, months and years to come…