Title: A Separate Peace
Author: John Knowles
Genre: Literary Fiction | Classics
Summary: Set at a boys boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.
Final Rating: ♥♥♥♥ / ♥♥♥♥♥
I’ve never read anything quite like The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Since that is one of my favorite books of all time, one that has stayed with me for the longest time, one that I can re-read any time of the day, I’ve been looking for a book very similar to it. I’ve perused through several lists, desperate for something, anything. I picked up Brideshead Revisited because it was on one of these “Similar to the Secret History” lists, and I was disappointed. And on one of those lists, I found A Separate Peace.
I wasn’t disappointed, albeit slightly misled. This book is not a lot like TSH. Yes, it’s set at boarding school. Yes, it’s about two friends that are corrupted. But that’s where the similarities end. Having said that, John Knowles provides a fleetingly harrowing yet engaging account of jealousy, impulse, the dark side of adolescence and forgiveness.
I enjoyed the first forty or so pages immensely. It was fast-paced, and the characters were well-developed and intriguing from the get-go. Two very different friends, yet two very real personalities. Phineas was fascinating with his erratic thoughts, his dare-devil approach to life, his charm and adventures. Gene, on the other hand, is shy and quiet, intellectual and studious, sits back and observes, easily malleable. The two’s relationship is somewhat already there, but develops throughout the book as well.
I will say that Phineas carried the book on his shoulders. When he would disappear from the story for a few pages or so, I would grow bored, which is why the rating went down. I wasn’t as engaged with Gene’s character as much as I was with Phineas, rendering some parts of the book seem mundane and rambling.
The ending took me by surprise. It shocked me. The relationship between our main characters- the tragedy involved- was heartbreaking but fascinating to witness.
This is a novel that will stay with you. It’s an account of jealousy and envy, of friendship and forgiveness, of regret and aggression. Worth picking up. Worth powering through the dull parts in between.