Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

I re-read this book because it met the requirements of one of my challenges, and also because I was curious to see if I'd remember most of the story.   This is Knowles' first published novel, and was released in 1959 and is a coming-of-age story told from the viewpoint of Gene, who is revisiting his old prep school fifteen years after graduation.  Gene's story reflects upon his time spent at the school, from the summer of 1942 to the summer of 1943, and basiclaly focuses on his relationship with his best friend and roommate, Phineas (a/k/a Finny).  The two boys are really polar opposites, but Finny is a powerful personality, and his friendship with Gene has a strong influence on decisions that Gene makes during this time period.

So how did this re-read go?  I actually did remember certain parts of the storty quite clearly, even though I had read this as a freshman in high school.  Parts of it came back as I read, although there was enough that I didn't remember to make this feel like I was reading it for the first time.  I can see why this book was assigned reading at the time: coming-of-age, friendship, personal struggles.  However, I have never quite identified with Gene.  Maybe it's because I'm female.  Maybe it's because I can't really identify with growing up in the 1940s.  Or maybe, just maybe, I don't really like him that much.  At times, Gene isn't really that bad -- he's very studious, has some athletic ability, and seems like an all-around okay guy.  However, he has some weakness of character that I find distasteful.  Perhaps I see Gene as being unappealing simply because Finny seems like a much more interesting character.  Don't get me wrong; Finny's not perfect.  At times, he comes across as a bit annoying, a little too enthusiastic, a little too much.  However, he's very comfortable with himself, and I find that attractive.  Gene, on the other hand, as much as he's good friends with Finny, sometimes lets his envy of Finny become a real impediment to being a good friend.

I don't know if I would tell every reader to pick up this book.  I do think it's a good story, and is well-written, with a good pace, and good narration.  In fact, I wonder if it might be better listened to, as an audiobook.  As far as coming-of-age stories go, from around this time period (not as much when they were written, but when they were popular books to be assigned reading), it's not bad, and I much prefer it to The Lord of the Flies, or A Catcher in the Rye (the first book I find tolerable, but the second I detest wholly).

Where did I get this book?  Gave away my copy long ago, so borrowed from the library.

Challenges:  Flashback Challenge  and Bart's Bookshelf 2010 Reading Challenge


Amanda Makepeace said...

I too read this book in High School, as a freshmen or maybe sophomore. To this day I cringe when I see it in the bookstore. Need I say more? I commend you for re-reading it, you are the better reader! :)

Jen said...

I don't know if I'm the better reader --- I was happy to get through this one and move on to another book! ;)~

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