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The Separation

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  1,167 ratings  ·  119 reviews
THE SEPARATION is the story of twin brothers, rowers in the 1936 Olympics (where they met Hess, Hitler’s deputy); one joins the RAF, and captains a Wellington; he is shot down after a bombing raid on Hamburg and becomes Churchill’s aide-de-camp; his twin brother, a pacifist, works with the Red Cross, rescuing bombing victims in London. But this is not a straightforward sto ...more
ebook, S.F. Masterworks, 336 pages
Published May 13th 2021 by Gateway (first published 2002)
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Average rating 3.66  · 
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Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Classic Christopher Priest.

With one caveat: Don't start here if you're new to him!

His Prestige is a great novel on its own, but that popular novel doesn't come all that near to the wide-wide ranging preoccupation with the Other place described in most of his other novels. And to be sure, there's a common theme in this one with those others.

Never-ending war. Lies and propaganda. Twins. Faulty memory. Strange, unexplainable events. Airplanes.

And above all, HISTORY. We *might* be spending some ti
It is one of my greatest sadnesses, as of about two hours ago when I finished this book, that I am not as good as Christopher Priest. For he is bloody good and an absolute madman.

Twenty pages into this book, he rewrote the Second World War. Then he rewrote it again, I forget how many times but it was lots. I got to the first twist and immediately couldn't put the book down for nearly six hours. I think I must have read about two thirds of it in one day. He writes very well, and the plot and the
Darren Goossens
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From http://darrengoossens.wordpress.com/2...

My wife’s review of this book is: “Engaging but unsatisfying. Not so good for people without a good knowledge of history.” I am rarely so pithy, direct, clear, definite or unequivocal, so shall proceed to spin out my review over hundreds of words. I may even reach a different conclusion.

Christopher Priest the author came to prominence through the British science fiction (SF) magazines, New Worlds and the like. Perhaps it’s because the British writers
Jan 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
An alternative history story with a difference, one that focuses on the time of divergence (and the lead up to it) more than the after effects. Most alternative histories posit a critical decision in the past that if made differently would have caused a very different subsequent chain of events. Here the author explores what might have happened (and what might have made it happen) if Churchill had accepted Rudolph Hess's plan for peace in 1941.

The story focuses on two identical twins that become
Guy Salvidge
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This might be Priest's best novel, an alternate-WWII story featuring twin brothers, a Bronze medal at the Berlin Olympics, a 1941 armistice between Britain and Germany, and a whole lot of phastamagoric shenanigans. Oh, and Rudolph Hess is a fairly major character in it. The book is convoluted, labyrinthine, and fascinating. I'm sure it would reward careful re-reading. Priest isn't and has never been much of a stylist, but no matter - this is highly accomplished and highly creative work. ...more
A great many years ago, I read a book of essays called “If it had Happened Otherwise”, which took various historical events and then examined what the outcomes might have been if a key factor had changed. I have loved this sort of writing ever since. Christopher Priest takes as his historical event the flight of Rudolf Hess to Scotland to try to bring about a peace treaty between Germany and Great Britain.

His way into this is through the lives of identical twins Jack and Joe Sawyer. But this is
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant. This is exactly what is wanted and expected from a Christopher Priest novel: crises of identity, the unreliability of memory, imposters, delusions, a critique of the construction of history - both public and private - and a compelling narrative that keeps the reader on his or her toes right to the end and then beyond.

It's his best novel since "The Affirmation", and possibly therefore his best, full stop.

Without giving anything away, then, a pair of identical twins take very different
Matthew Fitzgerald
Perhaps there was all sorts of meaning behind the duality of the various characters – the brothers Sawyer, discovering doppelgangers of Churchill and Hess, etc – but I put down this book pretty disappointed. Priest constructs a somewhat bland frame story for this novel, and then uses all manner of historical documents to flesh it out: journals (funny how all the characters write so well and descriptively in their journals, almost like … a novel), telegraphs, excerpts from newspapers and speeches ...more
I gave this a good long chance, but around a hundred pages in I was still completely underwhelmed. I've heard good things about Christopher Priest, so maybe this just isn't the right book for me. On the other hand, maybe he just isn't the right writer for me.

I skimmed a bunch of other reviews, and then the end of the book, and just -- really, it doesn't sound like it does anything particularly interesting. Alternate histories can be fascinating, but it doesn't sound like Christopher Priest ever
Terry Pearce
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mind-bending, sci-fi
This is exactly what I've come to expect from Christopher Priest. Engaging, thoughtful, slightly mind-bending takes on reality with good writing and character behind the conceit. Worthwhile. ...more
Rachel (Kalanadi)
Dec 19, 2016 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: winners-clarke
DNF'd at 34%. Just really not for me and I was bored, with no sense of where the story was headed. ...more
Dec 26, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This time-slip, alternate-world, twin-dynamic novel from Priest is an excellent work, full of satisfyingly unexplained detail which makes for an engaging, intriguing read. On a personal level, however. the downside is that I have little interest in World War II, so some of the historical information, the detail around planes and weaponry, and the political machinations were a struggle for me to become involved in. For this reason, it drops a star, but mileage for others will vary. Ultimately, it ...more
“In my mind I saw or heard or remembered the deafening sound of the engines, brilliant flashes of light in the dark sky around us, a large bang that was repeated whenever I moved my head, a shock of cold as the windscreen in front of my face was shattered [...], voices on the intercom, the huge and terrifying surge of the sea, the cold, the terror.”

This alternate history tale of identical twin brothers won the BSFA Best Novel award in 2002. It is set before, during and after WWII, with most of t
Michael Whiteman
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is an alternate history and a deep psychological portrait of a pair of identical twins. It takes on some of Christopher Priest's regular themes - duality and doubles, war, the unreliability of memory, parallel or fantasy/imagined worlds - but stands as one of his strongest.

The idea of Rudolf Hess' flight to Scotland bringing a peace between Britain and Germany in 1941 is a nice choice of "branching" for the alternate history but the actual speculative aspects are less to do with the future
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book I've read by Christopher Priest but I'll be tracking down the rest now to see if they are as good as good. There are several interwoven alternate histories spread across the Twentieth Century and (I think) it is left to the reader to decide which is "real". The story is structured around win brothers growing up immediately before the outbreak of WWII. The author has done a pretty good job at injecting a convincing air of authenticity to the events (real and imagined). The ...more
Marco Bucci
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5, rounded up to 5. Priest’s books are all intricate puzzles, and I never feel I’ve ‘solved’ one of his books upon first reading. But I think that’s yet another layer to his narratives: you don’t know what you know, even after it’s over. I don’t even know that Priest himself knows. If he does, he sure is stingy about giving the reader any feedback in the text. That will turn some off, but it works for me. I found myself often going back in search of this paragraph or that, trying to find a sma ...more
Sara G
Sep 15, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book about differing timelines and a potential alternate history WWII seemed interesting, but ended up being boring and incomprehensible to me. It's won a lot of awards, but just a quick glance at Goodreads reviews shows that people's opinions are pretty polarized. Obviously the author did his research about the historical aspects, but the way he used twins and hallucinations to characterize events and possible permutations of them just became too hard to follow. ...more
Sep 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
an intriguing novel which refuses to be classified in any way. is it science fiction ? is it alternate history ? is it a novel about identities ? Christopher Priest is a real master of this form of novel.
As my historian friend keeps reminding me, history is never just a simple narrative. It isn’t exactly what they teach you in school. It isn’t a bedtime story. There are so many factors involved, so many layers and pieces that history is more like a living organism than a fairy tale. History is constantly shifting and changing depending on the information used and lost and the people involved.

On the surface The Separation is an alternate history. It details a world in which Britain and Germany si
Jack Huber
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite movies is The Prestige directed by Christopher Nolan based on a book written by Christopher Priest. I read The Prestige when I was in high school and I loved it. After that, I didn't read another one of Priest's books until last year when I picked up the perplexing science fiction novel, The Inverted World. I loved that book because of its creative world design. It feels like a Borges short story expanded into an entire novel. What held that book back was bland characters that ...more
Mark Redman
The Separation by Christopher Priest is an alternate history story which revolves around the experiences of identical twin brothers during the Second World War. One brother becomes a pilot for the RAF and the other, a conscientious objector and then an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. Priest excels at deliberate obsfucation by giving the brothers the same initials, J L Sawyer.

What plays out is a multilayered history. Be prepared to have your mind twisted. The story plays on the uncertainties
Rachel Britt-busler
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
R. Andrew Lamonica
The Separation is a book that forces you to think. Are nations like people? If you abuse them, will they become abusers? If someone bloodied your nose, or the nose of your friend, would you bludgeon that person to death with a baseball bat? If not, should you support the escalation of a war where the nose-bloodying is proportionally-scaled-up to actual deaths?

Christopher Priest clearly wants you to think about these questions. But, he doesn't seem to be interested in promoting one set of answers
Nicholas Whyte
Aug 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

excellent stuff, dopplegangers, altered timelines and the second world war, as if Philip K Dick had been English and sober.


Again, I don't feel the need to revise my opinion much, especially since I've now read a few more alternate-WW2 novels. (Good ones: The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick, Jo Walton's trilogy Farthing, Ha'penny and Half a Crown; so-so: Timewyrm: Exodus, by Terrance Dicks, Dominion, by C
Peter Walker
Jan 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the third book I've read from Christopher Priest, and I'm really coming to love his style: not only his writing style which is ethereal and opaque, vague and evasive, but his content which is both otherworldly and realistic. After two of his books I've had a strong nostalgia for Haruki Murakami's "Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World." Both in tone and subject matter, Priest's work aligns well with some of Murakami, although the style and approach are quite different.

This book
Dave Morton
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my favourite Priest novel. I was intrigued from the start, the bookshop in Buxton, the Berlin Olympics, the chilling meeting with Hess.

Then all the mind-blowing shifts of reality: the twins, the two Churchills, is the Hess in captivity the same man the boys met in 1936? There's the 'reality' where the war ended in 1941, that's fine; but is the other reality our world, or yet another variation?

Above all, there's the Priest prose, economical and beautiful. His ability to evoke time and pla
Nathaniel Johnson
It was refreshing (and a bit of a downer) to read a tragedy. I've had a lot of trouble finding tragedies, since I don't think they sell well, but it was refreshing to find something sad and well-written. The ending was pretty depressing, but not illogical, and it was nice that I didn't have it figured out until the author chose to reveal it.

As a standalone work, The Separation's alright. I'm rating it a four instead of three because I'm a fan of the author's overarching work. As a standalone boo
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew next to nothing about this book when I started it--though having read and enjoyed several other Christopher Priest books, I expected it to be unsettling and un-put-downable. I was right. It's written with Priest's usual chilliness, and you're never quite sure what's going on or whether anything at all is real. There's a stunning amount of WWII history packed into the book, and I got little thrills when I was able to pick apart the actual history from the alternate one. Despite the feeling ...more
Ian Tier
May 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.49. An alternative history (or is it?) that asks more questions than it gives. My kind of book. It also provides convincing background to WWII history.
Priest takes the psychological musings of The Affirmation together with a loosely similar structure to The Prestige (there's nothing wrong with a bit of formula - as other, more successful authors may tell you).
One of the many hardships, I would imagine, of being at war is trying to live some sort of life through it. Priest paints a believable p
James McNally
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As with most of Priest's books, The Separation does an excellent job of creating a sense of unease through the use of repetition. In this case, a story about twins set during the Second World War, there's also a lot of doubling and stories reflecting each other. Even historical figures (Churchill, Hess) using "doubles" or impostors. The satisfaction I've had reading Priest is the sense of figuring out a huge puzzle, but as always, there is a lot that isn't resolved by the ending, so if you're so ...more
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Christopher Priest was born in Cheshire, England. He began writing soon after leaving school and has been a full-time freelance writer since 1968.

He has published eleven novels, four short story collections and a number of other books, including critical works, biographies, novelizations and children’s non-fiction.

He has written drama for radio (BBC Radio 4) and television (Thames TV and HTV). In

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