The Separation (GollanczF.) Paperback – 2 Aug 2007
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Christopher Priest excels at rethinking SF themes, lifting them above genre expectations 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 ended on 10 May 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 ring true? Clearly The Separation was impressively, extensively researched. Its evocations of bombing raids--from either side of the bomb sites--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.
Christopher Priest's finest novel in his 30-year-career as an award-winning writer, newly packaged for a new audienceSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
An engrossing read, if sometimes difficult to follow given the narrative style. A well realised concept in the alt history genre.Published 4 months ago by Mr. D. J. WENZEL
Captivating, puzzling, ingenious and absolutely maddening. Chris Priest is unique.Published 8 months ago by grandmajil
This is an excellent book. i read it years ago and wanted to re-read it. I wasn't disappointed.Published 18 months ago by George Formby
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 23 months ago by Andrea
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 morePublished on 19 Jun. 2014 by Mick the Knife
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 morePublished on 22 Mar. 2014 by Russell O'Callaghan
This is one of those times I finish a book and think, "Hmm, I wonder what other reviewers made of it? Read morePublished on 10 Feb. 2014 by John M
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 morePublished on 12 Jan. 2014 by blossom