My favourite novel genre is sci-fi (preferably earth-based and near-future). I’ve read most of Jules Verne, a lot of H. G. Wells and pretty much all John Wyndham, although recently I’ve been reading World War Two fiction – Ben Elton and Jack Higgins. The other day on a recommended books list a title I’d not heard of popped up - The Separation by Christopher Priest (published 2001) that straddled both genres. It’s already making ‘classic sci-fi’ lists after just a couple of decades.
Its subject matter of Nazi Germany alternative history has been done a lot: Fatherland by Robert Harris, The Man in The High Castle by Phillip K Dick, SS-GB by Len Deighton, 48 by James Herbert to name just a few of them. Because of this I nearly passed on it. I’m glad I didn’t. It was different to all the books I mentioned; it was a novel with a real ‘Oh!’ moment at the end and then a sleepless night trying to make sense of the whole book.
I hope my last comment and the sci-fi label won’t put you off. It’s not a Hitler-wins-war scenario where England lives in fear. It starts in the present day and tells its narrative through several people’s first-person memories and historical documents.
The style of it, rather than being like alternative history, was more like normal historical fiction. it reminded me a little of Robert Harris’s book Munich rather than his Fatherland. I’d also say in places there was also a touch of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five without (spoiler alert for people who haven’t read S-H-5) the aliens.
There were plot twists and turns all the way right up to the last full stop. If I’d been reading a physical copy of the book, I’d have been aware of arriving at the last page as I would have run out of paper to turn but reading an electronic copy it was less obvious. I tried to read the next page to find notes about the author. ‘WHAT…’ was my thought, so I turned back and re-read the last couple of pages, savouring them more the second time, then finally understanding the end (I think) after an hour or so of not sleeping, even though it was late.
If when I’ve finished a book, I think ‘Oh no, I’ll never read that book again for the first time’ then that’s how I judge how good it was. This was one of those books.
Simon Elson is a Freelance Features Writer. His articles have appeared in numerous national magazines including Best of British, Derbyshire Life and Writing Magazine. He also writes for the popular cycling website Veloballs.com and has been a guest blogger on The Huffington Post.