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"Joe, we came here to row, we can't get involved in politics....",
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This review is from: The Separation (Paperback)In a variety of personas Priest creates with deftness and charm a story running from the mid-1930s to the early years of the 2nd World War. It is both a war story and a story of the background of bomber command and British Red Cross, Churchill and the Hess attempt to broker peace, all of it personalised by two young men whose lives were both scarred by events in very different ways. Joe and Jack Sawyer (both boys had the initials JLS), were identical twins. They were at the Berlin Olympics as a coxless pair and won a bronze medal. They stayed with a family known to their mother - a Jewish family - and they were well aware of some of the restrictions (lifted for the duration of the Olympic Games) to which the Jewish people were beginning to be subjected. It was Joe who decided to save Birgit, the daughter of the family with whom they were billeted, and he smuggled her into Britain.
From this point their futures diverged. Certainly Joe, the more sensitive of the twins, felt their divergence as a loss. Jack, the stronger and more down to earth of the pair was determined to join the RAF. From this point in the story, however, there is more than a mere parting of the ways. There is the story of the ME-110 chased across the English channel by Swedish planes. The horror of the Blitz, the terror of the constant sorties across Germany, many of which having little effect, other than to kill the British, Irish, Polish and Commonwealth flight crews.
This book is absolutely outstanding in its atmosphere of the war years. It is un-flashy, undemonstrative but utterly grounded in the British experience of war, particularly the experience of flying bombers and driving ambulances. Joe and Birgit marry, but when Joe is away in the Blitz, Jack, whose passion for her has never entirely gone away, finds it impossible to stay away. There are sequences following Jack over the sea to carpet bomb Dresden and Cologne, and there are sequences in the thick of the blitz following Joe, who is a Conscientious Objector driving ambulances for the Red Cross. Along the way both men meet Winston Churchill and Rudolf Hess. Equally, at some points in this book there is a time-slip into another world, or perhaps a time-slip out of this one?
This being a Christopher Priest book, you would not expect just the extreme competence and confident groundwork of any situation. You would expect, and you will get, in the person of Joe, a profound psychological story; one that matches the heat and confusion nightly devastating the city of London. It is amazingly well imagined, though in its furthest reaches of imagination it is tremendously audacious. A brilliant, hair-raising book. I have just finished reading this book and have written this review on the crest of the shock-wave brought by the closing words. This is a fantastic book - I would say - be patient when it repeats itself, particularly near the beginning. There is a reason for it.