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The Separation Paperback – Nov 20 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz (Nov. 20 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0575070137
  • ISBN-13: 978-0575070134
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.1 x 23.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 508 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

Product Description

From Amazon

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 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.

About the Author

Christopher Priest's novels have built him an inimitable dual reputation as a contemporary novelist and a leading figure in modern SF and fantasy. His novel THE PRESTIGE is unique in winning both a major literary prize (the James Tait Black Award) and a major genre prize (The World Fantasy Award). He was selected for the original Best of Young British Novelists in 1983. He lives with his wife, the writer Leigh Kennedy, and their children in Hastings.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on Oct. 20 2003
Format: Paperback
Christopher Priest's "The Separation" breaks from the standard Alternate History templates in almost every way possible, and as a result, is superb addition to the genre. I say this because unlike most alternate histories, which focus on story (specifically timeline) to the exclusion of plot and character development, Priest has taken the opposite approach and written a novel that explores ideas and reality within the framework of an alternate history. His world is a tool (albeit a fascinating, well realized one) used to highlight certain salient elements of his narrative. Moreover, Priest leaves his world ambiguous and oddly uncertain.
This uncertainty begins with the opening pages of the novel, which at first strike the reader as relatively standard alternate history. It is the early twenty-first century in a world where Britain and Germany signed an armistice in the spring of 1941. Priest quickly frames a believable alternate world without bogging down in the details, and the novel seems set to follow the researches of one Stuart Gratton into the origins of this early peace. Intriguing yes, but hardly surprising or unique for an alternate history. However, that quickly changes as Gratton comes into possession of diaries that reveal the story of an RAF bomber pilot, and it quickly becomes clear that these diaries detail the events of our own world.
Thus begins a narrative that weaves back and forth across itself. Through the fascinating lives of J. L. Sawyer, twins who share the same initials, the reader is constantly left wondering what is real and what is imagined. Considering that the reader actually knows which story is true, this is a remarkable accomplishment, and speaks highly to Priest's substantial abilities as a writer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mme DLR on Aug. 24 2011
Format: Hardcover
Alternative history divides into two broad categories: those that use it as a device to tell genre stories, 'Fatherland' for example, and pure alternative histories which tend to be science fiction. 'The Separation' falls into the latter category. I prefer the former. And that's my main gripe with the book.

When I first came across it I was instantly intrigued by the hook of the Jews being deported to Madagascar instead of killed. However this is only the most minor detail in the background of the story. Nothing substantial comes out of it.

Instead this is a book of parallel histories, narratives and characters. Twins and doubles are everywhere (a theme the author is obviously interested in for those who have seen/read The Prestige). There are twins and doubles everywhere - and that's not a mistake because large sections of the book are repeated with only minor alterations. I understand how Priest is making a point about the nature of reality/parallel histories and unreliable narrators but personally I found it a bit tedious.

Something else that disappointed were the references to the extensive research of the book (both here on Amazon and the dust jacket). Again this maybe a case of me failing to manage my expectations but I assumed this meant research into the creation of an alternative world such as Harris's Berlin in 'Fatherland'. As it happens the books is full of detailed research but it's more to do with life during the war than any victorious Nazi Germany.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A. G. Plumb on Sept. 17 2003
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this novel immensely. Christopher Priest is a consistently fine writer, and, for me, this exceeds his two immediately prior novels, and they were good reads also ('The Extremes', and 'The Prestige'). If you have not read Christopher Priest previously I would also recommend the earlier novels 'A Dream of Wessex', 'The Affirmation' and 'The Glamour'.
There is always something unsettling in Mr Priest's writing - something to remind the reader that we all create a 'firm' understanding of the reality we live in, and yet we all know that we are often mistaken, deluded, fooled.... You could see this novel simply as an alternative history novel in which the outcome of World War 2 (our real history)is contrasted with a believable alternative. But it's nothing like Philip Dick's wonderful 'The Man in the High Castle' which is a post-war alternative history, because Mr Priest actually describes the war coming to an alternative resolution during the war. So there are real people in the novel - notably Winston Churchill and Rudolph Hess. And I could well believe in both of them. But the story centres on identical twins - both of them being JL Sawyer. Perhaps we were meant to get them confused, but one of the slight weaknesses for me in this novel was a failure to separate the twins adequately - well, they were diametrically opposed in their attitude to the war, but it was their mood and personality that got confused for me.
Mysteries abound in the narrative and only a very dull mind would not be actively searching for resolutions, explanations. But the story keeps turning away from possible explanations and yet keeps coming back to itself with different views of the same incidents - there's a bit of ground hog day in it!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
An enigma wrapped in a riddle; the ideal alternate history Oct. 20 2003
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Christopher Priest's "The Separation" breaks from the standard Alternate History templates in almost every way possible, and as a result, is superb addition to the genre. I say this because unlike most alternate histories, which focus on story (specifically timeline) to the exclusion of plot and character development, Priest has taken the opposite approach and written a novel that explores ideas and reality within the framework of an alternate history. His world is a tool (albeit a fascinating, well realized one) used to highlight certain salient elements of his narrative. Moreover, Priest leaves his world ambiguous and oddly uncertain.
This uncertainty begins with the opening pages of the novel, which at first strike the reader as relatively standard alternate history. It is the early twenty-first century in a world where Britain and Germany signed an armistice in the spring of 1941. Priest quickly frames a believable alternate world without bogging down in the details, and the novel seems set to follow the researches of one Stuart Gratton into the origins of this early peace. Intriguing yes, but hardly surprising or unique for an alternate history. However, that quickly changes as Gratton comes into possession of diaries that reveal the story of an RAF bomber pilot, and it quickly becomes clear that these diaries detail the events of our own world.
Thus begins a narrative that weaves back and forth across itself. Through the fascinating lives of J. L. Sawyer, twins who share the same initials, the reader is constantly left wondering what is real and what is imagined. Considering that the reader actually knows which story is true, this is a remarkable accomplishment, and speaks highly to Priest's substantial abilities as a writer.
To delve more deeply into the plot would risk spoiling it, but there are numerous elements to this novel that are worth mentioning. The first is it's presentation; Priest deftly switches from the third to the first person, and often interjects "historical" letters and documents to flesh out the narrative. While in less capable hands, this would come across as contrived, here it succeeds nicely in separating the lives of the Sawyer brothers.
Which brings us to the literary device of the twins; again, in less capable hands, they could come across as hackneyed, but carefully handled, as they are here, they are an essential and fascinating plot element. Aside from the broadly recognized, if not fully appreciated, bond between twins, Priest explores even deeper elements. His twins, despite being two people seem to be bound to only one destiny. Each has his preferred path, but they are mutually exclusive, and immutable. This tension, although never explicitly stated or explored, informs the entire novel, and is key to Priest's ability to keep the reader wrong-footed for quite literally the entire novel.
Finally, this question of destiny brings us to the book's consideration of reality. At times Priest seems to verge on the "multiverse" approach found elsewhere in science fiction; in other words, his world and our own are not exclusive but just two of innumerable possible worlds. Ultimately, however, he backs away from this approach; while not a proponent of predestination, he views history as a force that can be diverted but never meaningfully altered. In this specific instance, he uses Hess, Churchill and other real people to illustrate that other outcomes, no matter how strongly desired, aren't plausible in the face personalities, circumstances, etc. If I am correct in this reading, it has fascinating implications for the entire structure of the book, to the point that in a manner of speaking the book ceases to exist for the characters once it has been read in its entirety.
I used the word "if" above for two reasons; the first is that while I am confident in my reading, I can't state conclusively that I am correct. The reason for this hesitation is the second reason for using "if": this entire novel is about "ifs". The story crosses back upon itself countless times, and the reader is constantly left to question what is consequential and what is insignificant. By exploring the alternative paths available, Priest highlights the one that actually was followed to great effect; it is easy to assume that the world would have been a better place absent World War II, but what would the implications of such a peace have been?
Blending elements of convergent and divergent history, not to mention secret history, Priest has produced a remarkable novel. His world is tremendously detailed without being overly expository, and his writing posits a host of intriguing questions. Where "The Separation" truly shines though is in its consideration of our humanity. Priest uses his world to explore our hopes, aspirations and desires. Moreover, by deliberately fracturing and blurring the narrative, he calls into question reality itself even as he brings into stark relief the implications of our actions. A novel rich in ideas, beautifully conceived, superbly executed and brilliantly written, "The Separation" is not to be missed.
Jake Mohlman
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Don't remain separated from it for longer than you have to! Sept. 17 2003
By A. G. Plumb - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this novel immensely. Christopher Priest is a consistently fine writer, and, for me, this exceeds his two immediately prior novels, and they were good reads also ('The Extremes', and 'The Prestige'). If you have not read Christopher Priest previously I would also recommend the earlier novels 'A Dream of Wessex', 'The Affirmation' and 'The Glamour'.
There is always something unsettling in Mr Priest's writing - something to remind the reader that we all create a 'firm' understanding of the reality we live in, and yet we all know that we are often mistaken, deluded, fooled.... You could see this novel simply as an alternative history novel in which the outcome of World War 2 (our real history)is contrasted with a believable alternative. But it's nothing like Philip Dick's wonderful 'The Man in the High Castle' which is a post-war alternative history, because Mr Priest actually describes the war coming to an alternative resolution during the war. So there are real people in the novel - notably Winston Churchill and Rudolph Hess. And I could well believe in both of them. But the story centres on identical twins - both of them being JL Sawyer. Perhaps we were meant to get them confused, but one of the slight weaknesses for me in this novel was a failure to separate the twins adequately - well, they were diametrically opposed in their attitude to the war, but it was their mood and personality that got confused for me.
Mysteries abound in the narrative and only a very dull mind would not be actively searching for resolutions, explanations. But the story keeps turning away from possible explanations and yet keeps coming back to itself with different views of the same incidents - there's a bit of ground hog day in it! And the ending of the novel is something I have seen before too - in WH Hudson's 'A Crystal Age' - not that I saw it coming in 'The Separation' for all that. Hudson makes no effort to rationalise or justify how the ending could be the way it is - Mr Priest hangs out a technical artefact that you could configure as an 'explanation' if you so wish - an option not available to Hudson, although he could have resorted to a occult 'explanation' if he'd wished. Let me just leave it by saying in both novels that the ending is very strong.
At the end of the novel I was left wondering - perhaps there could have been a better outcome for World War 2 (not something our side is ever likely to countenance) - or at least, a less bad one.
Finally, and not with regard to the novel itself, I am left wondering why a search for 'The Separation' brings up nearly 2000 items but this book is no where near the head of the list (it's last on the list of 44 publications under 'Christopher Priest'). I realise that it is not available everywhere yet, but it is in the database of titles and it is open for reviewing. It is, also Mr Priest's most recently published novel so should become widely available soon - unless, of course, .....
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Another great on from Christopher Priest March 30 2004
By Kirk McElhearn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
One cannot easily describe the plot of any of Christopher Priests books, so I will not attempt to do so here. The synopsis of this book above tells about as much as one can tell without giving away too much. For this is a book full of twists and turns, of characters who are not who they seem (or who are more than they seem), of situations that get turned inside-out.
Again exploring a pair of twins (Priest is, himself the father of twins, which could explain this obsession), this book involves several pairs of doubles, of mistaken identity, of confusion caused by shifts in perception. What begins as a relatively simple story, of a writer researching a key moment in (an alternate) history, ends up being one of the most haunting books I have ever read.
I won't deny that my interest flagged at moments; the structure of the second part of the book (diary entries, letters, documents) seems dry on the surface, but each piece in this puzzle ends up having much more import than it seems on the surface.
Priest excels here in shifting from one reality to another. He never makes them obvious, and these shifts are so subtle and masterful that they sneak up on you.
Suffice it to say that this confirms my opinion that Christopher Priest is one of the finest living writers, and that he creates some of the strangest yet cloyingly attractive stories one can find. Far from his origins and label as a "science fiction" writer, Priest has almost defined his own genre.
Five Stars Jan. 10 2015
By Mrs Lydia Sernecki - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
well writtern book.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
U.S. edition coming! April 10 2005
By Michael Walsh - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Old Earth Books will be publishing the first US edition of this great alternative history novel. Due out in September.

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