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 story of the Second World War: this is an alternate history: the two brothers - both called J.L. Sawyer - live their lives in alternate versions of reality. In one, the Second World War ends as we imagine it did; in the other, thanks to efforts of an eminent team of negotiators headed by Hess, the war ends in 1941. THE SEPARATION is an emotionally riveting story of how the small man can make a difference; it's a savage critique of Winston Churchill, the man credited as the saviour of Britain and the Western World, and it's a story of how one perceives and shapes the past.
Fans of Christopher Priest will know not to expect an easy ride- newcomers to his work must be prepared to be challenged, confused and frustrated before finishing a book which has no rational conclusion. To describe The Separation as complex is an understatement - you will put this book down and immediately want to read it all over again. Twin brothers Joe and Jack Sawyer are at the Berlin Olympics for the coxless pairs, lodging with a Jewish family who are already feeling the effects of Hitler's inexorable rise to power. The twins leave Berlin with the Bronze medal - and a beautiful Jewish girl stashed away in the back of their van. Their love for Birgit is just one factor which will separate them in years to come as they return to Britain to take up very different roles in the coming war. Jack joins the RAF, flying bombers over Germany, until his plane is shot down. He is invalided out of the air force, only to take on a vital role under the aegis of Winston Churchill himself. Joe, a conscientious objector, spends the war working for the Red Cross, until his ambulance suffers a direct hit in the Blitz. But reality is not what it seems - this is a novel about impostors and double bluff, in which different worlds collide so that reader and even the narrator, are confused about what is really true. The separate lives of the brothers become inextricably linked. Joe suffers a series of deja-vu experiences, but just as we think we have grasped the truth through Joe's eyes, the narrative shifts, and we realise this was all hallucinatory: Jack apparently survives when his plane is blown up, but a fellow survivor claims he died in the crash. Birgit is married to one brother but has an affair with the other ...or does she? And what is the role of Stuart Gratton, who is writing the history of the Sawyer brothers? What Priest is saying is that events are dependant on our perception of them, and that a slight shift of perspective can have catastrophic results. He is also warning us not to believe our eyes, because the truth is never what it seems - it is far more complicated than that. A novel which features identical twin brothers and body doubles of both Winston Churchill and Rudolf Hess was never going to be an easy read - and Priest doesn't disappoint on that score. (Kirkus UK)