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The Illusion of Separateness Hardcover – 25 Jul 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (25 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780743246
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780743240
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.1 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 592,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'The elegance of Van Booy’s evocative prose has led to comparisons with F. Scott Fitzgerald; it’s some claim but one this little gem of a book completely justifies.'

(Daily Mail)

'Van Booy writes with muted, unsentimental elegance about the impulses that bind us together.'

(Sunday Times)

'Simon Van Booy’s reputation can only grow... There’s a crispness to [his] writing... It is the beginnings of poetry...
it carries you with it effortlessly.'

(Independent on Sunday)

'There is a sustaining pleasure in wondering how the strands of the story will tie together.'


‘A delicate, complex, moving novel, one to withstand – demand even – an instant second reading.’


(Daily Telegraph)


‘The story snaps together beautifully... brilliant’ Library Journal ‘Van Booy is a writer whose work I will forever eagerly read’ Robert Olen Butler, author of Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Award-winning author, Simon Van Booy's, beautifully written and unusual second novel, focuses on a small group of characters who have a significant effect on one another's lives, even though they may be unaware of it. Moving backwards and forwards in time from the Second World War to the present day and touching on certain times in between, we meet: Martin, a Jewish orphan, adopted by a member of the French Resistance; Sebastien, a young French boy who finds the hulk of WW2 plane in the woods near his home; Mr Hugo, a facially disfigured ex-Nazi soldier living his life in atonement; John Bray, an American B-42 pilot, shot down in France in 1944; John's blind granddaughter, Amelia, who works for the Museum of Modern Art, putting together exhibitions for the visually impaired; and Danny, a half-Nigerian, half-English, Hollywood director who, as a child, lived next door to Mr Hugo in Manchester, during the 1980s.

This is an intense story, but a rather slender novel, and one, I believe, which is better read without too much knowledge of the plot, the characters and how their lives interconnect, so I will not reveal more of the story in case I spoil it for prospective readers; however, I will say that just one incident, which occurs between two enemies, on a battlefield full of dead soldiers during the Second World War, impacts in ways which go far beyond one act of mercy. Based partly on a real story, and also, as the author says: "..on the Buddhist idea about how we are alive in order to overcome the illusion of our separateness; the idea that, in ways we cannot really understand, we are connected in life's web to one another", this novel is exquisitely written and rich in poetry and imagery. Maybe not the novel to choose if you prefer fast-paced, plot-driven narratives, but if you enjoy beautifully written stories with prose that is so resonant you want to read sentences again for the sheer pleasure they provide, then this is a novel for you.

4 Stars.
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Format: Hardcover
The doctrine of dependent origination is at the heart of Buddhist teachings of all schools. It is a profoundly difficult teaching in its implications. In the Suttas, the Buddha rebukes even the most learned of his disciples for thinking they understand dependent origination. Broadly, dependent origination teaches that persons and things lack substantiality and fixity and are invariably changing. There is nothing substantial, fixed, and independent in, for example, personal identity; rather things and persons are inextricably interconnected to each other, with one thing flowing and changing from another. The Buddha also tries to teach a way to break the cycle of interconnectedness through the Four Noble Truths.

Although Simon Van Booy's novel, "The Illusion of Separateness" (2013) does not mention dependent origination, Buddhism, or the Buddha, at least part of the teaching pervades the book, as Van Booy says in a short oral presentation on his book that may be found online. In addition, the book opens with an epigraph from the Vietnamese Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh: "We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness". Born in Wales but living in the United States, Van Booy has written novels and stories with a strongly philosophical bent and has also edited three books of philosophical essays.

Van Booy's novel gives a novelistic account of the "illusion of separateness" by showing the interconnected character of the lives of people apparently separated in place, time, and culture. Each of the short chapters of this short book focus on one of six individuals: Martin, Mr. Hugo, Sebastien, John, Amelia, and Danny.
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By Kat on 28 July 2013
Format: Hardcover
I'm always drawn to books about World War II, and over the last few years that has morphed into looking for more unique books about WWII - and the Illusion of Separateness appealed to me as it is about a group of people who are connected without knowing.

I've not read Simon Van Booy before, but the very first thing that struck me about The Illusion of Separateness and continued to entertain me thoughout the book is the writing style. Stark and poetic, it did take a little getting used to, but it's a very effective way of telling a story without getting bogged down in wordy descriptions or details. Not surprisingly, seeing as Van Booy has won awards for Poetry, there are dozens of quotable passages that snuck up and grabbed me when I least expected them.

As the plot goes, it's fairly simplistic but extremely clever - none of the characters seem to have any connection to each other, and it's only as the story progresses that the extent of their connection becomes apparent, even across multiple generations. As far as the characters go, they range from a young blind girl through to war veterans and all of them are very seperate entities.

It's hard to do this book justice without spoiling large parts of the story, but I was incredibly impressed by The Illusion of Separateness - it surprised me, moved me and even shocked me in all the right places.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is another Marmite-type book, you will either love it or hate it. I happened to dislike it; nicely written but, from the very start, too gloomy and disjointed. I get that the 'disjointedness' is there for a reason, but it soon becomes too much. It leaves you feeling kind of alienated and depressed as hell. The author is asking a lot of us, the reader: he is asking us to keep jumping from one character, country, time to another, and he is asking us to stick with his book until the very end when our effort of reading it will, supposedly, finally pay off. But he is not offering us very much at the start. If the otherwise excellent Van Booy had bothered with some sort of a hook (i.e. likeable, well-drawn characters), he could have made this reading experience a much better one.

So if you are a huge fan of the writer, you will trust him and keep on reading this book, even if you're not enjoying it much, in the knowledge that it has to be worth your while. But for others, the book is simply too much like hard slog, you don't look forward to picking it up again. And, as the other 3-star reviewer says here, the idea of bringing together a bunch of disparate characters is not exactly revolutionary. I get why the critics love this little book; but critics read for a living. We, on the other hand, read for pleasure, and I didn't get any from reading 'The Illusion of Separateness'.
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