52. A Separate Peace: John Knowles

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This was received as an ebook from Simon and Schuster via NetGalley. I requested the title as I was interested to see it described as an “American classic” but I had never heard of it. A quick scan of the reviews on Goodreads was interesting. Views seem split, users either love it or hate it. The hatred seems to emerge from the fact that it is a common ‘set text’ in American high school English classes, and I know how much people tend to dislike things they are made to study so I took those opinions with a pinch of salt.

A Separate Peace is a classic coming of age story about the friendship between two boys in a New England boarding school during the Second World War. Gene, our narrator, is intelligent and slightly reserved but gets ‘picked out’ to be the best friend of Phineas (Finny). Finny is vibrant, athletic and possesses the ‘gift of the gab’ to such an extent that even his most extravagant rule breaking manages to go unpunished. He invents games and events which most of the other boys end up being part of, until one day there is an accident which changes the dynamic of Finny and Gene’s relationship. Meanwhile, the war is rumbling on and the thought of enlisting looms in the mind of the boys.

It is short and easy to read, with Gene’s narration taking a slightly cool, detached tone in spite of him being one of the main characters. I think it is quite a realistic depiction of the development of teenage friendships which are never straightforward and always a mixture of admiration and rivalry which I suppose must be intensified even further in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a boarding school, with the backdrop of war. There are a couple of dramatic moments but it’s more a book about characters and atmosphere rather than plot.

4 stars

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