It wasn’t the cider that made me surpass myself, it was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace.A Separate Peace is the story of Gene Forrester's friendship with his schoolmate Phineas, known as Finny. In the summer of 1942, both are students at Devon, a boarding school in New England. As sixteen-year-olds, they are still too young to join the army, and so they enjoy what nobody else seems to be able to enjoy that summer: a time of peace. Gene, who narrates the story, has conflicted feelings about Finny, to put it mildly. As time passes and his and his friends’ seventeenth birthdays approach, they also have to face a major decision: whether to enlist, or to wait until they’re drafted to join the war.
These are only the bare bones of the plot: a lot happens in this short and moving novel, and I want to let you find out as much of it as possible for yourselves. I’ve been meaning to read A Separate Peace for a while, but I decided to read it now because I discovered that Meg Rosoff’s lovely What I Was was based on it. They are very different stories in some ways, but they do have the same basic structure: a boarding school story, an unusual friendship between two teens, and a narrator who is looking back and remembering events that marked him forever. A Separate Peace also reminded me of another book I love, but I cannot tell you which one it is, as doing would be a big hint about what happens at the end. Sorry!
One of the things that struck me the most about this story was how lonely all of the characters were. Gene and Finny have an unusual friendship, like I said. Gene is never quite sure whether they are friends or rivals, and as a result he never really lets Finny get close to him. This real or imagined rivalry is the driving force behind the book’s main events. And in addition to this, there’s the fear they all live in. The first quote I included under notable passages is about that: the overpowering fear the war creates in these boys, a fear none of them would ever acknowledge, a fear that is never talked about. This permanent fear makes them to shun any display of vulnerability, lest their own be revealed.
Gene and his friends know they are expected to fight in the war, and more than that, they know they are expected to be excited about it. Older men look at them with a little envy, as if what awaited them were a wonderful adventure, not danger and potential death. They grow up with these expectations, and so their identity, their very idea of themselves as valuable people, as men, gets wrapped up in the war. To be unable to fight is to be a nobody. To not want to fight is unthinkable. And yet—well, how could they not be afraid? In this sense, A Separate Peace reminded me a lot of Wilfred Owen’s chilling poem “Dulce et Decorum Est”.
The story of Leper, the first of Gene’s friends to enlist, touched me in particular. But the themes of war, fear and identity are only some of the many sides of this novel. Like all the best books, A Separate Peace seems to be one that will show the reader something new every time they return to it.
Now here it was after all, preserved by some considerate hand with varnish and wax. Preserved along with it, like stale air in an unopened room, was the well known fear which had surrounded and filled those days, so much of it that I hadn’t even known it was there. Because, unfamiliar with the absence of fear and what that was like, I had not been able to identify its presence.I love how that last bit conveys the novel's loneliness so well.
It was hard to remember in the heady and sensual clarity of those mornings; I forgot whom I hated and who hated me. I wanted to break out crying from stabs of hopeless joy, or intolerable promise, or because these mornings were too full of beauty for me, because I knew of too much hate to be contained in a world like this
It was a night made for hard thoughts. Sharp stars pierced singly through, not sweeps of them or clusters or Milky Ways as there might have been in the South, but single, chilled points of light, as unromantic as knife blades. Devon, muffled under the gentle occupation of the snow, was dominated by them; the cold Yankee stars dominated this night. They did not invoke in me thoughts of God, or sailing before the mast, or some great love as crowded night skies at home had done; I thought instead, in the light of those cold points, of the decision facing me.
Care’s Online Bookclub
books i done read
A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook
Mr Magoo Reads
Books for Breakfast
Thoughts of Joy
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