World Book Day last Friday prompted my reflection of books I read before hitting the landmark age of 18—what lingering impact did certain novels have on my life, books that packed a literary punch I have yet to shake (and likely never will) and I pondered the everlasting question of ‘why’ those novels and not others.
Lionel Shriver once again upped the Radio 4 listening stakes on Valentine’s Day when she appeared on Harriett Gilbert’s A Good Read slot. Shriver’s choice of a good read? A Separate Peace by John Knowles, promoted as ‘an intense story of adolescent friendship and betrayal’. It had been decades since I read A Separate Peace but, just as Shriver highlighted and the panel agreed: this is a clever coming-of-age novel (Knowles’ first) that ‘wrong-foots’ the reader and is well worth the read whatever the reader’s age.
This is a novel that embeds beneath the skin. The decades elapsed since its 1959 publication have not diminished nor dated this story. Being reminded of its plot, characters and twists by the BBC last week triggered my teenage self to float reluctantly to the surface. I felt nostalgic and teary-eye for that teenage girl I was when I first read Fowles’ novel, but I also felt grief for this story of two distinctly different boys who cascade down a waterfall of adolescent descent together.
Are there homoerotic undertones to this book? The reader is left to intuit what they wish; what is clear, however, is that A Separate Peace can still rattle the bones of its audience and is relevant today.
Looking for a book to share with a teenager or seeking a novel to engage your adult self—this is a mighty fine choice. If my recommendation isn’t enough, Lionel Shriver apparently knows a thing or two about what makes an enduring, captivating classic.
Check it out: