Friday, May 31, 2013

A Separate Peace by John Knowles // Cassette Tapes and Boarding Schools

An Apology: I'm sorry I haven't posted anything lately. The weather's been so nice, so I spent most of my time this week on my back porch reading Alexander McCall Smith books and studying for the SAT's on Saturday; and my evenings have been filled with rehearsals for a play that I'm in. So I haven't had much time to write, unfortunately.
I have tons of ideas though, so there will be a lot more coming in the near future!


When I was younger, my sister and I would often listen to books-on-tape in the car while my mom drove us to various activities and classes. This was an excellent way to pack even more great books into our already literature-filled life - but is there such a thing as too many books?
However, as we got older, the amount of extracurricular diminished. The ones we did go to, we did separately, so we were rarely in the car at the same time. And when we were - we would listen to the radio. 
You can imagine our surprise when, a few months ago, my mother pulled out a couple cassette tapes (yes, my mother's car is that old) and announced we were going to be listening to A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Our last attempt at books-on-tape together had been Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman (by Richard P. Feynman), which hadn't gone too well. My mother was so excited to listen that she would turn it on no matter who was in the car - meaning that I missed a good chunk and had to rewind. I eventually gave up and got the book from the library. (By the way, I highly recommend Feynman's book. It's hilarious, nerdy, sincere, and inspirational, all at the same time.)

So when she pulled out A Separate Peace, my sister and I wondered how it would turn out. 

A Separate Peace cover.jpg

A Separate Peace is a story that tells of life in an East-coast boarding school during World War II. It is told from the perspective of one of the students, Gene, and focuses on his relationship with his best friend, Phineas (or Finny). I'm debating how much of the plot to give away, as I don't want to ruin it for anyone who chooses to read it, so I'm sorry if this comes off vague. 
Finny is definitely a stronger character, and in the beginning the book seems to be a character description of Phineas. The reader sees Finny through Gene's eyes, and as the book progresses, our opinion of Finny changes as Gene's does. I feel that ultimately Phineas is, as Gene says in the end of the book, the only person in the entire Devon School who wasn't affected by the traditions and Devon-ness. He is confident in himself and does not let anything sway him or his opinions. (I really, really like Finny. He is awesome. I would love to have him as a friend.)
Even though, if you look superficially at the book, Finny is a sort of "main character," a deeper analysis reveals that the story is not truly about Phineas's adventures but more about Gene's inner struggles and growth. Gene definitely has his major flaws - selfishness is a big one - and the story shows his coming of age, and his learning to come to terms with himself. He learns to not take everything seriously; to be kinder, gentler; and ultimately, to forgive - not just others, but himself, as well. 

Knowles definitely is a good writer, but I feel that he tends to ramble on a bit at times. I discovered that A Separate Peace started out as a short story, Phineas. Perhaps it would have been better staying just a short story. The writing sometimes slips out of Gene's voice and into Knowles', describing everything in detail, so much so that we would often joke how everything was so "sensuous." Gene is 17. I don't think that a 17 year old boy would realize the "sensuousness" of nature. The continuous descriptions may help us to form a better picture of the Devon School, but after a while, it just gets a bit tiring, and we can't wait for it to get back to the plot again.

In conclusion, this book didn't quite make it to my (rather large) list of book I truly like, but it's excellent character analysis and substantially good writing.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Book discussions make the world a better place! Write me a comment - I respond to each and every one, I promise. So check back!

(YES! I LOVE TAGS and I do them! So tag away! But no bloggerly awards, though, like the Liebster or the Sisterhood of World Bloggers. Thank you!)