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The Separation [Paperback]

Christopher Priest
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
Price: 7.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

8 Sep 2011

THE SEPARATION is the story of twin brothers, rowers in the 1936 Olympics (where they met Hess, Hitler's deputy); one joins the RAF, and captains a Wellington; he is shot down after a bombing raid on Hamburg and becomes Churchill's aide-de-camp; his twin brother, a pacifist, works with the Red Cross, rescuing bombing victims in London. But this is not a straightforward story of the Second World War: this is an alternate history: the two brothers - both called J.L. Sawyer - live their lives in alternate versions of reality. In one, the Second World War ends as we imagine it did; in the other, thanks to efforts of an eminent team of negotiators headed by Hess, the war ends in 1941.

THE SEPARATION is an emotionally riveting story of how the small man can make a difference; it's a savage critique of Winston Churchill, the man credited as the saviour of Britain and the Western World, and it's a story of how one perceives and shapes the past.

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The Separation + The Prestige (GOLLANCZ S.F.) + The Affirmation (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
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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 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 272,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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 the Hardcover edition.

Book Description

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

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of Science Fiction 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
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
3.0 out of 5 stars I simply can't make up my mind... 19 Nov 2010
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a bit fan of the repeated flashbacks of the ...
Not a bit fan of the repeated flashbacks of the same event and I got quite confused by the memory failure towards the end too.
Published 18 days ago by Andrea
5.0 out of 5 stars Christopher Priest at his very best
I've always been a fan of alternative histories, and this novel is full of uncertainties. What did really happen? How come this character perceives something different to that one? Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mick Freed
5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes you curse the kindle......
And this is one such time. "The Separation" constantly demands that you skip back to check, "Is that right? Surely that's not right?" And Kindles are hopeless for this. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Russell O'Callaghan
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't work for me....
This is one of those times I finish a book and think, "Hmm, I wonder what other reviewers made of it? Read more
Published 6 months ago by John M
4.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing
I have said in my review of another of Christopher Priest's novels, that I now know I am not very clever. I just cannot understand exactly what is going on. Read more
Published 7 months ago by blossom
2.0 out of 5 stars I didnt like this book
This book was not what I expected. From my point of view it has nothing to do with science fiction an didnt manage to engage me. Complete waste of time for a science fiction fan.
Published 12 months ago by yhh
4.0 out of 5 stars The Separation
This was a very detailed account of WWII, from which I learned a lot. However, the story line played with your mind, especially towards the end of the book, so much so that I am... Read more
Published 14 months ago by susan bunn
3.0 out of 5 stars Prolix and pedestrian
I had high hopes for this from the plot summary and reviews but was sadly disappointed. The novel began with an interesting idea of identical twins competing in the 1936 Olympics... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Miketang
4.0 out of 5 stars Under-appreciated novelist
This author is well worth catching up with, and this is one that had slipped my net until now; Priest is most probably known as writing the novel from which the film "The... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Richard Pearson
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Alternative History
The Second World War that ended in 1941.......or perhaps it didn't. As usual with Priest there's a blurring of reality, and this is a book which requires the reader's full... Read more
Published 15 months ago by David Morton
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