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The Separation Paperback – 8 Sep 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz; Reissue edition (8 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057507003X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0575070035
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 48,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Christopher Priest excels at rethinking SF themes, lifting them above genre expectations and into his own tricky, chilling, metaphysically dangerous territory. The Separation suggests an alternate history lying along a road not taken in World War II. But there are complications...

In 1999, history author Stuart Gratton is intrigued by a minor mystery of the European war, which, as everyone knows, ended on May 10, 1941. The British-German armistice signed that month has had far-reaching consequences, including a resettlement of European Jews in Madagascar.

In 1936, the identical twin brothers Joe and Jack Sawyer win a rowing medal for Britain in the Berlin Olympics: it's presented to them by Rudolf Hess. The brothers are separated not only by a twin's fierce need "to be treated as a separate human being", but by sexual rivalry and even ideology. When war breaks out, Jack becomes a gung-ho bomber pilot, Joe a conscientious objector. Still they're inescapably linked, and sometimes confused. Both suffer injuries and hauntingly similar ambulance journeys. Churchill writes a puzzled memo (later unearthed by Gratton) about the anomaly of a registered-pacifist Red Cross worker flying planes for Bomber Command. Hess has significant, eventually incompatible meetings with both men. Contradictions are everywhere.

As in his magical 1995 novel The Prestige, Priest is fruitfully fascinated by the legerdemain of twins, doubles, impostors, symmetrical roles. Churchill's double briefly appears. So does the famous conspiracy theory that the Hess who flew to Britain with his quixotic peace deal wasn't the real Hess. Clearly The Separation was impressively, extensively researched. Its evocations of bombing raids--from either side of the bombsights--are memorable.

The unfolding story strands become increasingly disorienting and hallucinatory; the easy escape route of dismissing one strand as delusion is itself subtly undermined. The Separation is filled with a sense of the precariousness of history, of small events and choices with extraordinary consequences. --David Langford --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

Christopher Priest's finest novel in his 40-year-career as an award-winning writer

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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A. Whitehead TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 16 July 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Separation is the eleventh and most recent novel by British SF author Christopher Priest, published in 2002 when it promptly won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the BSFA Best Novel Award and the Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire. For reasons that remain unknown, the British publishers tried to kill the book at birth, releasing it with a minimum of fanfare and remaindering it as soon as humanly possible. Luckily, Gollancz saved the book and released it in a handsome paperback edition in 2004, where as part of their Priest reprint range it has remained in-print and with increasing critical acclaim ever since.

Priest's novel, The Prestige (soon to be a major motion picture), is regarded as his best and most well-known book. The Separation is a book that at one moment is similar (another novel about duality and identity) and at once utterly different. It very nearly defies a plot summary, since any attempt to convey the storyline would be in itself verging on a spoiler. But I will do my best.

A historian working in 1999 becomes intrigued by a minor historical figure, a pacifist in Second World War Britain briefly mentioned by Churchill in his war memoirs. This man, JL Sawyer, is soon revealed to be one of a pair of identical twins. In 1936 Jack and Joe Sawyer take part in the Olympic Games in Berlin as coxless rowers, winning a bronze medal, but soon the outbreak of war separates them: Jack becomes a bomber pilot, tormented by the destruction he wreaks each night on German cities. Joe, the pacifist, becomes a Red Cross ambulance driver helping find survivors of the nightly Blitz on cities such as Manchester and London.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 9 Aug 2002
Format: Paperback
For over thirty years, Christopher Priest has been one of the most distinctive and interesting presences in English fiction. If there's any justice at all, "The Separation" should win his work a whole new readership, being a brilliantly-conceived and executed study of contingency and conscience. In Priest's hands, twentieth century history is re-made through the oddly-echoing stories of the Sawyer twins. One Sawyer is a prominent pacifist and the other a bomber pilot, but both become embroiled in a clandestine attempt to cut short the Second World War. "The Separation" has a lot in common with "alternative history" novels, exploring on its way a strangely convincing other Europe where Britain made peace with Hitler in 1941. However, what makes "The Separation" stand head and shoulders above many another "What if ...?" novel is the consummate skill with which Priest assembles his skewed history through different viewpoints and sources, every section the product of first-rate research and imaginative identification. The counterfactuals are all the more gripping for being rooted in excellently conceived and convincing set-piece descriptions of (among other situations) the 1936 Berlin Olympics and terrifying combat-flights over night-time Germany. Fans of Christopher Priest should note that "The Separation" also boasts some striking new twists on his trademark concerns about identity and how we construct ourselves out of memory and incident. Christopher Priest has produced some first-rate fictions in his time, but "The Separation" may just be the best yet.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By sjhigbee on 19 Nov 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'm a fairly decisive person. But, very occasionally, a book has me seriously conflicted. 'The Separation' is one such novel. Priest is an interesting and powerful writer with a very individual voice. He is fascinated by the notion of an unreliable narrator - and he doesn't regard himself as a science fiction or fantasy writer. He's best known as the author of the book 'The Prestige', which was made into the successful film. Here in 'The Separation' are many of the themes that we found in 'The Prestige' - a double-hander between two close-knit people bound by ties of love, envy and eventual hatred.

Set against the background of World War II, this book explores the wartime experiences of the Sawyer twins, who had won a bronze at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Both with the same initials, their story is researched by Stuart Gratton, based on primary source material given to him by Angela Chipperton. Gratton's interest is sparked by a comment he comes across in a memo from Winston Churchill, who mentions J.L. Sawyer, who is both a conscientious objector and RAF fighter pilot. It isn't until a long time into the book, we realise that it shouldn't be possible for Angela and Stuart to meet, as they are both from different timelines. What they do have in common, is that their father is J.L. Sawyer...

And that's as much as I'm going to say about the plotline. Did I say plotline? Hm - the word tangle would be more accurate. Priest certainly weighs in on the literary end of the genre - and although I've seen the book described as science fiction, for my money it's probably the heftiest attempt at alternate history/ies I've ever read. There isn't a single alternate strand running through the book, rather a series of them.
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