Author: John Boyne
Publish Date: 2006
Audience: Teens and up
I have been meaning to read ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ for a number of years now. The topic of World War Two has forever fascinated me, and the film adaptation is one which has stuck with me emotionally, so I was intrigued to see how the book compared; thus, I concluded this read was long overdue for me!
The story finds 8 year-old Bruno being forced to move due to his father’s job promotion. Their new home overlooks a vast area of enclosed land called ‘Out-With’ (Auschwitz), where soldiers patrol and people in ‘striped pyjamas’ reside – and no-one will tell Bruno what is happening. Then, when on a walk, Bruno encounters an unlikely friend sitting on the other side of the fence and the two strike up a friendship.
Unfortunately, I was immensely disappointed with this book, and it proves to be one of the only novels to which I prefer the film. For a story which heavily relies on the emotional attachment you form with both characters and plot, the writing style made it incredibly hard to feel fully invested in any part of it. The only part which completely tugged at my heart-strings was the climax, as the naivety of the characters is so painstakingly evident. I feel like the plot twist would have been a lot more shocking if I wasn’t already fully acquainted with the story-line, but it was still distressing to read. Alas, the sheer emotion was almost immediately ruined by the last chapter, which was quite frankly the most boring end to a book I have ever experienced. The incredibly simple writing style lacked any sentiment whatsoever, rounding the following events up far too quickly, and leaving me on an extremely disappointed note.
As well as the tedious writing, the characters’ relationships felt terribly underdeveloped which also undermined the emotion. Bruno and Shmuel’s friendship appeared to be very flat, with little or no connection between the two, which made the non-plausibility of the novel even more evident. This is where I feel the film makes a much better format for the plot than the novel, because the relationship between the actors can be much more discernible than on page when done correctly.
One aspect that I did like about ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ was how obvious Bruno’s naivety was. For example, he performs the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute thinking it is simply the standard way to say goodbye to somebody; he constantly makes references to how jealous he is of Shmuel on the other side of the fence as he gets to ‘play’ with other children and wear ‘pyjamas’ all day. This guilt which is projected onto the reader is ultimately what the story is all about for me, as it makes you question what classes a victim, particularly using a horrifying real-life event such as the Holocaust.
In conclusion, I really wanted to like ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, but I was incredibly disappointed at how lacklustre it was. There was hardly any emotion to the characters or the writing, which was very surprising given its topic and the harrowing nature of the film. However, this does appear to be a novel which people either love or they hate, and so seeing as it is an extremely quick read, I would certainly recommend you to give it a shot in order to form your own opinion.