A Separate Peace by John Knowles

A Separate Peace by John KnowlesA Separate Peace is a classic from 1959 that I won in a banned books contest at The Roofbeam Reader. I can’t quite find out why it’s banned but it seems to have something to do with the language used or sexual content. I didn’t notice either!

A Separate Peace: What it’s about

This short book is the story of Gene Forrester, a man of about 30 years old, who visits his old boarding school, Devon, and thinks back of his time there at the age of 16. The US army was demanding more and more young men to join and Gene’s year group is at the brink of being old enough to enroll.

Gene’s best friend, although he has ambivalent feelings about him, is Phineas aka “Finny”. Finny is a daredevil who frequently breaks the school rules but usually charms his way out of being punished by the teachers.

At first, Gene and Finny are great friends, but at some point Gene becomes a little paranoid and is convinced that Finny may pretend to be his friend, but is actually trying very hard to be his superior in sports and studies.

Gene causes an accident that leaves Finny unable to continue his sports (in which he excelled) and Gene is full of guilt. Finny, in the mean time, doesn’t know the accident was on purpose and is friendly with Gene as normal. Another student thinks he knows what really happened. He confronts first Gene and later Finny, with disastrous effect.

The war starts to play a more important role during the book and one student, Leper, volunteers to join the army. This brings the war closer to home.

A Separate Peace: What I thought

The book was written in a “peaceful” style, which I enjoyed. I mean that it’s told in as statements, this happened, that happened, without any judgment from the narrator (who was looking back on events that happened in the past).

The author very well explained the relationship between Gene and Finny. I also liked the changing perception of Gene regarding the relationship. Whereas Gene first saw Finny as a friend, he later began to perceive him as a rival, and later again changed his mind. That seemed quite a natural way in which friendships may develop.

The build-up of the story was good. Because the narrator was telling this story from the future time, it was clear that something would happen (otherwise the narrator wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of telling this story). That worked really well, I was constantly waiting for something to happen.

Then after the accident, the book seems to concentrate on the guilt that Gene feels for causing it. I wasn’t really too worried when a fellow school pupil, Brinker,  made jokes about Gene’s possible contribution to the accident. Until it was too late!

While  Gene’s guilt was real and important, as a reader I didn’t see Brinker as a big problem, probably because Gene didn’t, either. This was very cleverly written!

I found the part about Leper, the pupil who joined the army, less interesting, because it took us away from Gene and Finny. However, it did bring the second world war into the story, which of course is everything to do with the Peace in the title.

In all, I thought this was a beautifully written book, even if the topic was not highly interesting for me. The way it was narrated still kept me wanting to read more and find out what the ending of the story would be.

Rating: 4/5

I got this book: I won this book in a giveaway from Adam at The Roofbeam Reader.

I read this in: the original language, English.

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23 Responses to A Separate Peace by John Knowles

  1. nymeth says:

    I really liked this one as well! Especially the writing. It really was beautifully written, and also very subtle – so much going on beneath the surface.

  2. This was a great book — it’s been 30 years, and I still remember how sad I felt when I finished. Very nice review.

  3. A very beautiful book indeed. As it happens I read it about six months ago and reviewed it here (in Dutch).

  4. not come across this writer at all, so thanks for the heads up.
    Parrish

  5. I’m glad you enjoyed this book, I’d never heard of it before. It seems like every banned book is banned because of sex or language.

    • leeswammes says:

      I think that often is the case, Kim, but in this book, I couldn’t see anything offending. Still, there must be something that offended someone! I’m glad it’s being read (or was) at schools a lot.

  6. Dorte H says:

    “I can’t quite find out why it’s banned but it seems to have something to do with the language used or sexual content. I didn’t notice either!” LOL

    I think old banned books often strike modern readers in that way. You don´t notice anything out of the ordinary so you really don´t get why anyone would want to ban it.

  7. Julie says:

    This classic is one of my favorite. I love that book.

  8. Rachel says:

    I find when I read most banned books I struggle to see why they were banned… it’s usually a kind of funny reason.

    • leeswammes says:

      I find that too, Rachel. And often the book was only banned at one town/school etc. It’s usually not a nation-wide ban, so it’s just one or two people that have problems with the book and get it banned.

  9. amymckie says:

    I hadn’t known much about this book but it sounds interesting. Glad you enjoyed it.

  10. Wow this sounds interesting… I think I would like to read this.

  11. Pingback: Literary Blog Hop: November 18-21 « Leeswammes' Blog

  12. Thank you for pointing me to your review! I also didn’t think much of Brinker until too late…. but I did like Leper’s involvement in the story when Gene visits his home – he made the outside world/war extremely real, almost too real for Gene to handle at that point in time. By the end of the book, and the events that happened – Gene has grown up and seen enough that the school can’t shelter from him that he is ready for the reality of enlistment and the war.

  13. Cassandra says:

    Im 15 and had to do a banned/challenged research paper so i pick A Separate Peace, and i absolutely loved the book, it turns out that the book was never banned but it was however, challenged for offensive language and sexual content. yes most of the offensive language was directly said, but with the sexual content was implied not directly said. I believe that the novel should have never been challenged but back when it was challenged societies had different thoughts and ideas about this content but i personally believe that everyone should read this novel at some point in their lives because it really opens the eyes of the reader as to how the world was in the past, and how some of the world is still the same now as it was back in the 1940’s.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Cassandra. Good to hear you liked this book. Some people read books for school and never enjoy it, so it’s nice that you did.

      Often books are ahead of their time and what is considered offensive in one decade, may be accepted as normal in a different time. But some people find anything offensive, no matter what decade we live in! :-)

      I think it’s very perceptive of you to notice that not everything was different in previous times. Some things are the same over the ages. Hope you got a good mark for your paper!

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