book: “The Separation” by Christipher Priest

September 22, 2010

I didn’t like this book! It was very frustrating and one of those books that you keep thinking must get better but just didn’t.

The plot is complicated and often for no good reason – for example, it starts with a writer who is given some material on a person he has been trying to find out about.  The daughter of one JL Sawyer, gives the author notebooks he wrote about his time before and during the war.  Then the book switches to that story, it turns out there are two JL Sawyers – identical twins with the same initials and we find out about them through these notebooks.  Then half way through it reaches the end of the notebooks and we have this author mentioned again briefly then he never appears again.  Similarly the entire last third of the book turns out to be a hallucination and none of it has actually happened!

In addition to all this nonsense when we are in the present with this writer we hear about things in the world that don’t fit with our own history – i.e. USA isn’t a world power but an isolationist country with a failing economy.  This is fine because the reader can assume that this story that takes place mostly during the second world war the plot will reveal something form which a different history of the world will unfold.  However, at the end of the book (as mentioned) this key change in history turns out to be a hallucination so we don’t know that anything has happened.

Apparantly this is a highly aclaimed award winning SF book (Arthur C. Clarke Award, the BSFA Best Novel Award and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire).  I can’t see anything in it that I recognize as Science Fiction but rather an alternative-history book, but within either genre a story has to make sense – and this one doesn’t.