Earth by John Boyne: A modern morality tale

Cover image for Earth by John BoyneI read the first in John Boyne’s four-novella series last year, ending my review with reservations but planning to read the next instalment. While Water looked at the complicity of a wife in her husband’s sexual abuse of minors, Earth is set in the world of professional football where two players are accused of a crime, one of rape the other as an accessory.

This life, this terrible life I have, was his dream, not mine. I’ve become everything he wanted me to be since I left the island four years ago, but he’s still controlling me. 

Evan has an extraordinary footballing talent but when he runs away from his small Irish island, heading for London, it’s an artistic career he’s set his heart on. Hopelessly naïve, he approaches a string of galleries all of which turn him away. When his money runs out, he stumbles into lucrative work as a rent boy, ‘auditioned’ by a wealthy, well-connected man. Evan is a beautiful young man, an easy commodity for Rafe to sell, attracting the attention of someone so powerful Evan must sign a non-disclosure agreement before being put to work until Sir’s penchant for humiliation and violence gets out of hand. Evan has no choice but to turn to football, approaching a Championship team where he and Robbie become friends of a sort. Evan’s desire for the arrogant self-absorbed Robbie is tacit but known and exploited. After a party in Robbie’s flat, Evan is accused of filming his friend’s rape of a young woman.

I became a different boy than the one I was supposed to be. I wanted to be a painter. I wanted to be good. I wanted to love someone, and to be loved in return. But none of those ambitions came to be. 

Boyne explores an impressive number of themes for such a short piece of fiction – class entitlement and privilege, the leeway given to talented young footballers thrust into immense wealth with no moral compass, the way in which the legal profession handles sexual offences, corruption, moral and otherwise – to name but a few. Several bombshells are dropped into Evan’s narrative, bringing readers up short as we learn more of his short life. I found it gripping – complex and thought provoking. Although I was a little unconvinced by the ending, I finished Earth without the reservations I felt about Water. A thoroughly accomplished piece of fiction which gives you more to think about in its 176 pages than many novels do in 400 or more. Looking forward to the next instalment later this year.

Doubleday London 9780857529831 176 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)

17 thoughts on “Earth by John Boyne: A modern morality tale”

    1. It certainly does! I’ve often thought about young, immensely talented people thrust into the limelight with money thrown at them but no guidance as to how to deal with it all. John Boyne illustrates the consequences so well.

  1. I haven’t read this series by Boyne yet. I have read his earlier works. His output is prolific.

  2. I haven’t read any of these novellas as yet, but will definitely read one or two before the end of the year. This one sounds particularly interesting.

  3. I listened to Water on audio (read by Niamh Cusack) and now have Earth lined up to go – I wondered which character/s from Water would be picked up again in Earth … now I know 🙂

  4. Such a short piece for so many hard-hitting themes. But I can see it, especially as so many of these themes are intersecting, so he could explore many aspects of a story all at once.

  5. I got into a conversation with a football fan recently about the amount of money paid to youngsters with incredible talents – £3,000 a week apparently in one case! They’re just kids so no wonder they go off the tracks

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