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The Illusion of Separateness: A Novel Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 211 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; 1st edition (June 11, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062112244
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062112248
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Lives connect across continents and decades in the aftermath of two soldiers crossing paths in a field in war-ravaged France in 1944. American John Bray, whose B-24 was shot down, is trying to reach the border despite his injuries when he encounters a German soldier—later named, for the author he’s reading, Victor Hugo—who is the only survivor of his recently-strafed unit. Short chapters, jumbled in chronology and setting, each focus on one of a number of characters, among them, Bray, Hugo, a caretaker at a retirement home for actors, a blind museum curator, and a prominent film director. The result is a collage that becomes clearer as the book proceeds until finally all the pieces click into place. In spare prose, Van Booy portrays the connections forged by love or simply coincidence among seemingly separate lives in even the most desperate situations and illustrates how even the smallest kindnesses may reverberate through time. This short and deceptively simple novel, which affords the pleasure of discovering its well-wrought patterns, is likely to grow in stature as it lingers in memory. --Michele Leber


“The uncanny beauty of Van Booy’s prose, and his ability to knife straight to the depths of a character’s heart, fill a reader with wonder….There are so many wonderful sentences in this book, a reviewer groans for want of room to list them.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Masterful prose....From minimalistic sentences he wrings out maximum impact, stripping away artifice and elaboration in favor of stark, emotional clarity and honesty.” (Boston Globe)

“His writing is consciously poetic and at times aphoristic, and he deftly portrays his characters’ raw emotions.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Van Booy writes like Hemingway but with more heart. It’s a gorgeous story about people whose lives are connected all because of a baby who is saved during World War II. Warning: don’t read this in public, or you might sob in front of strangers.” (New Hampshire Public Radio)

“World War II flashbacks, random acts of kindness, and the amazing thing that happens when seemingly disparate story lines come full circle.” (Daily Candy)

“Using restraint and a subtle dose of foreshadowing, Van Booy expertly entangles these disparate lives; but it’s what he leaves out that captures the imagination. Full of clever staccato sentences bookended by snippets of inner monologue -- obvious, but ripe with meaning, the writing is what makes this remarkable book soar.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“A spare, elliptical story of human connection, framed by the horror of World War II….The story snaps together beautifully. A brilliant if elusive novel that shows how a single act can echo through time.” (Library Journal)

“This short and deceptively simple novel, which affords the pleasure of discovering its well-wrought patterns, is likely to grow in stature as it lingers in memory.” (Booklist)

More About the Author

Simon Van Booy was born in Great Britain and grew up in rural Wales. He is the author ofThe Secret Lives of People in Love, Love Begins in Winter (winner of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award) and the novel, Everything Beautiful Began After. His latest novel is The Illusion of Separateness.

He is the editor of three philosophy books, titled Why We Fight, Why We Need Love, and Why Our Decisions Don't Matter. His essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, and ELLE Men, (China), where he has a monthly column. He has also written for the stage, National Public Radio, and the BBC.

Simon teaches part-time at SVA in Manhattan, and is involved in the Rutgers Early College Humanities Program for young adults living in under-served communities. In 2013, he founded Writers for Children, an organization which helps young people build confidence in their talent, through annual writing awards.

He was a finalist for the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, and his work has been translated into more than fifteen languages.

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Customer Reviews

The writing is beautiful, and the characters are delicate and feel authentic.
Johann Thorsson
It's more a collection of interwoven stories than a full-fledged novel in terms of narrative, but the characters are connected in both definitive and fleeting ways.
Larry Hoffer
I became so engrossed with the story that I finished the book in one reading, with even a few tears at the end.
Carole Wilmoth

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on June 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The theme of The Illusion of Separateness -- the connections among people living in different times and places, and their witting and unwitting dependence upon each other -- is telegraphed by the title. Even when we are apart from the people we know (and from people we don't know), we are not truly separated.

Martin is a handyman in a retirement center where residents pass their days "remembering the lives they once inhabited." He is the first of several characters who come into focus as the novel progresses. Their stories are so diverse that The Illusion of Separateness creates the illusion of reading several separate novels at once, yet the characters have much in common, including their ongoing attempts "to unravel the knot of their lives" and, in some cases, their understanding of what it means to be hated.

Some of the characters connect in France. Martin is the adopted son of Parisian bakers who, in 1955, make a sudden decision to move from Paris to Los Angeles. In 1942, a pilot named John takes a picture of himself on Coney Island, standing in front of a Ferris wheel with Harriet, his wife. His plane is shot down over France. In 1968, a schoolboy finds the picture of John and Harriet in the wreckage of the airplane. Years later, the photograph resurfaces in another country.

Some characters connect in England, a country that becomes important to John's story. After the war, a man with a serious head injury, stripped of voice and identity and mistaken for French, slowly recovers from his wounds in Paris. Named Victor Hugo for the book in his pocket, the man eventually relocates to Manchester, where his neighbor is a young boy named Danny.

Some characters connect in the United States.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Sharon - NYC on June 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Simon Van Booy has written another beautiful novel. This book is nominally about the interconnectedness of a group of very disparate individuals. The story is compelling and the reader is carried inexorably forward on the wings of the most poignant and beautiful prose. But there is so much more here than the story of the characters -- there is the story of what it means to exist in this world, the story of love and forgiveness, of memory, of sounds and smells and the whisper of a greater hand at work. This book is mystery and poetry and philosophy all bound together with the silken strings that tie one human being to another and at the very core, there is love.

This is a book to read twice - each time with a new revelation, a simple truth, a soft memory, the gentle touch of joy!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Miss Bonnie on June 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover
'In a sense we are all prisoners of some memory, or fear, or disappointment-we are all defined by something we can't change.'

The Illusion of Separateness tells the story of six different individuals who are all interconnected in ways they don't even realize. The story begins in Los Angeles, CA in 2010 but goes as far back as 1939 in the midst of World War II. Through these first-person stories and the recounting of past events, it slowly begins to unfold how these seemingly random people are all effected by a strangers actions.

I'm quite enamored with interweaving story lines in movies (Crash, Babel, Love Actually, The Fountain.. I could obviously go on and on) relishing in the stories of many only to find just how interconnected they are to one another. It takes a skilled writer to successfully write several plot lines, connect them effortlessly and at the same time give each of them a proper ending. I was immediately interested in this book once I realized it dealt with multiple plot lines yet found myself leery when noticing how few pages the author gave himself to work with, made me worry that he wouldn't give each and every one of his characters proper credit or back-story. While I wish I did have more back-story on these characters, what we were given was sufficient enough to make each of them memorable.

'...finding the candles by heat, and blowing them out one by one, as we, one day, will be vanquished with a last puff and then nothing at all - nothing but the fragrance of our lives in the world, as on a hand that once held flowers.'

While the characters 'illusion of separateness' did on occasion feel strained and slightly forced this was still undoubtedly an enjoyable tale. Slow to build with a simplistic way of writing but was ultimately extremely pleasing in the end.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Julie Merilatt VINE VOICE on June 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The concept of this book is so unique and the stories they tell are so beautifully assembled. Van Booy takes seemingly unconnected individuals and connects their fates like a written collage. No, this is not a collection of short stories, but a variety of memories and vignettes that show how we are all in some way connected. Characters are revisited during different periods in their lives and we are given a glimpse of their personal reflections. Van Booy has such skill with language and his prose has elements of poetry. While he deftly weaves the lives of his characters together, I was left wanting more. Just as I was feeling emotionally vested in the characters, everything is wrapped up neatly. It was an eloquently constructed, yet compact book, but I felt it could have been developed with more of the exquisiteness that Van Booy is obviously capable of.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.
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