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The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne

Sarah Broadhurst's view...

May 2010 Book of the Month.

Featured on The Book Show on Sky Arts on 22 April 2010.

The structure here is interesting. It begins in London in 1981 with Georgy and his wife Zoya. She is dying. Chapter two takes us to Russia in 1915 and Georgy’s young life. So, in alternating chapters, the contemporary story moves back and the historical one forward until they meet in 1918. The historical episodes centre on the Romanovs to whom Georgy was a bodyguard. After their deaths Georgy and Zoya flee and seem to spend their lives in fear, we know not from what. When it is revealed I certainly didn’t see it coming …. Brilliant. A lovely book, highly recommended.

Comparison: Sebastian Faulks, Tom Rob Smith, Kate Furnivall.

John Boyne introduces THE HOUSE OF SPECIAL PURPOSE...
"My previous two novels were narrated by children – a 9 year old and 14 year old respectively – so when I began THE HOUSE OF SPECIAL PURPOSE I knew that I wanted a break from this and so I began chapter one with the voice of an 82 year old Russian emigre in London, a man for whom English is not his first language and who therefore speaks in a rather formal and elegant style.

The novel takes place over more than sixty years, following the journey of Georgy, a young peasant from his wood-framed hut in the farmlands of Russia to the Winter Palace of Tsar Nicholas II, where he becomes a bodyguard-companion to the Tsarevich Alexei and onwards to Paris and London between 1920 and 1980, as Georgy and his wife Zoya leave behind the dramatic events of the Russian Revolution but are never fully able forget them.

I’d never written a love story before and at its heart, that’s what this novel is. Georgy and Zoya are a couple who have been through many traumas together but their affection and loyalty to each other marks their relationship and maintains the strength at its core."

If you like John Boyne you might also like to read books by Colum Mccann, Nigel Farndale and Robert Goddard.

Who is Sarah Broadhurst

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The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne

Russia, 1915: Sixteen year old farmer's son Georgy Jachmenev steps in front of an assassin's bullet intended for a senior member of the Russian Imperial Family and is instantly proclaimed a hero. Rewarded with the position of bodyguard to Alexei Romanov, the only son of Tsar Nicholas II, the course of his life is changed for ever. Privy to the secrets of Nicholas and Alexandra, the machinations of Rasputin and the events which will lead to the final collapse of the autocracy, Georgy is both a witness and participant in a drama that will echo down the century. Sixty-five years later, visiting his wife Zoya as she lies in a London hospital, memories of the life they have lived together flood his mind. And with them, the consequences of the brutal fate of the Romanovs which has hung like a shroud over every aspect of their marriage...

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'Boyne is a skilled storyteller...his novel is an exciting, fast-paced story...absorbing and richly satisfying.' The Times

'John Boyne has a talent for bringing big historical events to life...Boyne has skilfully drawn a living, breathing character who not only witnessed one of the greatest events of the 20th century but also had his own part to play in how the dramatic tale unravels.' Daily Express

'Boyne writes with consumnate ease, and is particularly good at drawing the indecently rich world of the pre-revolutionary Romanovs.' Independent

'A wonderful, many-layered novel, written with thought and tenderness... mesmerising' The Irish Examiner

'Boyne exercises total control over pace and revelation. A work that chimes perfectly with our times The Irish Times Painstakingly researched and the result is ornate and intricate. An engrossing read' Irish Mail on Sunday

About the Author

John Boyne

John Boyne was our Guest Editor in May 2010 - click here - to see the books that inspired his writing.

John Boyne was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1971, and studied English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and creative writing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, where he was awarded the Curtis Brown prize.

His early writing consisted mostly of short stories and he published a number of them. His first story, The Entertainments Jar, was shortlisted for the Hennessy Literary Award in Ireland. In total, he has published about 70 short stories.


His 2006 novel, THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS, was made into an award-winning Miramax film. The novel itself won 2 Irish Book Awards, the Bisto Book of the Year, and was shortlisted or won a host of international awards. Amongst other accolades, it spent more than 80 weeks at no.1 in Ireland, topped the New York Times Bestseller List, and was the bestselling book in Spain in both 2007 and 2008. Worldwide, it has sold more than 5 million copies and was the 6th highest selling novel of 2008.

His novels are published in 42 languages.

He lives in Dublin.

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Book Info

Publication date

15th April 2010


John Boyne

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Black Swan an imprint of Transworld Publishers Ltd


496 pages


Historical Fiction
Books of the Month
Literary Fiction
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Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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