A Separate Peace by John Knowles
November 13, 2010 23 Comments
A 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.
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.