Monday, May 28, 2007

The Separation by Christopher Priest

Title: The Separation
Author: Christopher Priest

ISBN # 057507003X

Publisher: Gollancz Fiction

First Published: 2002

405 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 7/10

In 1936, twin brothers return to
Britain from the Berlin Olympic Games with bronze medals and a young Jewish woman, a refugee from the Nazis, concealed inside their van. This act of compassion sets in train a sequence of events which has the potential to change the course of history.

As in The Prestige, Priest uses confusion of events and individuals, as well as imperfect memories, to great effect, crafting a tale that changes in its very plot as the reader hears the point of view of different characters. This is helped a great deal by the use of identical twin brothers, both with the same initials, who cause some confusion with the people with whom they interact, as well as the use of doubles for political figures in dangerous situations.

At times, things are rather confusing, and on occasion, it’s only when there’s a mention of flying or ambulances that the reader can fathom which of the brothers is currently narrating, but this serves to heighten the tension in several situations where the outcome is never certain, and often, on seeing the same event from another’s perspective, the outcome shown the second time round conflicts with the original, giving a sense of “you had to be there.”

It’s packed with excellent characters who are fleshed out very nicely, as well as some unusual portrayal of historical figures and the roles they played during WWII as it might have been (it's a slightly altered, alternative history), but with a lot of jumping about and switching back and forth between different memory streams. I get the feeling that this would be better after a second reading, but even with the confusion on a first reading, it's rather enjoyable.


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