book of the month

After taking two month's off, I'm finally back with this month's Book Club Bloggers Book of the Month, A Separate Peace by John Knowles. In a way, the beginning of this book mirrored my own feelings: I was coming back to this book, a book I haven't read in around ten years, and at each turn of the page I remembered. As if it all happened to me so long ago... Maybe it's my own preoccupation with slowly growing older and coming to terms with the fact that my own days of carefree youth and schooling are over. That I, too, am at the point in my life where I will visit the giants of my childhood and will feel that nostalgic tug and surprise that it was so long ago even though it feels like only yesterday. Or maybe it's the infectious way that Knowles begins his story. Either way, I couldn't help but be drawn in...

*Spoiler Alert*

In whole, A Separate Peace is a coming-of-age novel driven by the war that is going on beyond the walls of Devon School, beyond "the fringe of the last and greatest wilderness." It's the summer of 1942 and the boys of Gene and Phineas' year are the last of the innocent:

"The people in the world who could be selfish in the summer of 1942 were a small band, and I'm glad we took advantage of it."

Aware that they will most likely be drafted when they turn eighteen, the war is on the forefront of the boys' minds, yet it's also in the background, underneath. It doesn't wholly feel real yet or affect them in their safe little world. At the moment, they are still "nothing but children playing among heroic men."

"So the war swept over like a wave at the seashore, gathering power and size as it bore on us, overwhelming in its rush, seemingly inescapable, and then at the last moment eluded by a word from Phineas; I had simply ducked, that was all, and the wave's concentrated power had hurtled harmlessly overhead, no doubt throwing others roughly up on the beach, but leaving me peaceably treading water as before. I did not stop to think that one wave is inevitably followed by another even larger and more powerful, when the tide is coming in."

Yet, little by little the real world encroaches, the war seeps in, destroying their innocence and shattering their lives in little ways.

To me, the intrusion of the war stands out much more than Gene's action against Phineas. I understand that it's the main part of the book, the shocking incident that propels the story onward. But I felt the tree was only the beginning of the great war looming around them. Gene was perhaps its first victim, leading him to act against his one true, good friend in an understandable moment of jealousy. Then it took Leper, clouding his mind and his decency. And then it took the other boys who put Gene on trial. They all knew. They all suspected. They all came to the realization that innocence was no longer and they acted out, wanting Gene and Phineas to confess what had really happened as it slowly dawned on them that such a thing really could happen.

The war altered them, made them men and took them away from their "afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace."

You can read the other Book Club Bloggers' reviews here.


Charlotte said...

ooooh, I really like your last paragraph. You use such great language, it really explains everything well. Especially the sentence, "as it slowly dawned on them that such a thing really could happen." That explains a lot of the boys' actions at the end of the book. Also, the realization of war overtaking Gene's and Leper's minds... great imagery.

I'm glad this book held good memories for you, and you could relate to facing giants and returning to the past...

sami chu. said...

i am not going to read this post in case i want to take this ugly book off the shelf and read it one day!

but-- i saw this and immediately thought of you and your future bridal shower: http://underapinkmoon.blogspot.com/2011/06/party-files-starlight-starbright.html


Rachael said...

You are SUCH a great reviewer! My goodness!
I really enjoyed reading your take on it. I think I once picked up this book and read part of it because for the first half, I kinda knew what was going to happen next but ONLY right before it happened. As soon as I realized it seemed familiar (like it had happened to me, just like you were saying), I tried to guess what'd happen next in the plot and I couldn't. It was so bizarre. That feeling went away halfway through so I'm guessing either he writes in such a way that it can make someone who's never read the book nostalgic or I never finished it.
Anyways, that was a tangent. I just wanted to comment on how well written your post was...

Jayme and Mendi said...

Just reading your blog brought back a memory that I think I had suppressed... I too read this book (probably 15 years ago) & I remember it being amazing, but it's not one that I would have recalled off the top of my head, had I not just seen this post from you. So...thank you for the memories!

We are fellow Virginia bloggers (covering all things girlie) who just found you via locationcentral.blogspot & we're now following you. We hope that you'll check out our blog & follow back if you like!

Thanks girl!

Mendi @ Her Late Night Cravings

Monica {bohemian twilight} said...

i only skimmed 'cause i hate anything even remotely spoilt :) but that 2nd quotation you chose snagged my interest - it's very well written.
i'll take a look at it, thanks.

Molly said...

Beautifully written review. Thank you! (sometimes when you read something wonderful don't you just want to thank the author? well, I just got to!!!)

So glad you liked the book a second time. And now I want to read it again and focus more on the war imagery. Both times I've read the novel I've been so caught up in the character studies that I've noticed but not really dug into it! You've inspired me!!!

A Foreign Land

Christianna said...

Beautiful review, my book club pal! Your use of words is brilliant!

I like how you touched on the point that the war made a bigger impression on you them the tree incident! About half way through the book, I too started to feel that way. The intrusion of war into everyday life can be earth shattering, and for these boys it was.

katie said...

i like your line about visiting the giants of our childhoods. being now very far away from the physical spaces where i feel my "real" life took place (because right now isn't real life?), it's interesting to go back and see what is and isn't as i remember it, and what has the power to bring me back to 17 years old.