ISBN-13: 9780062112248 HarperCollins, 6/11/2013
Hardcover, 211 pages www.simonvanbooy.com/books.htm
The characters in Simon Van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness discover at their darkest moments of fear and isolation that they are not alone, that they were never alone, that every human being is a link in a chain we cannot see. This gripping novel—inspired by true events—tells the interwoven stories of a deformed German infantryman; a lonely British film director; a young, blind museum curator; two Jewish American newlyweds separated by war; and a caretaker at a retirement home for actors in Santa Monica. They move through the same world but fail to perceive their connections until, through seemingly random acts of selflessness, a veil is lifted to reveal the vital parts they have played in one another's lives, and the illusion of their separateness.
The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy features of series of vignettes that show how a dissimilar group of people are actually connected. Each chapter focuses on one of the characters in the book during some point in their life. Time periods range from 1939, and WWII, to the present, 2010. As we follow the characters, or learn more about them, their interconnectedness is suspected, then slowly revealed.
Each separate narrative is beautifully written and finely crafted. The characters and stories are based on the actual actions or recollections of six very diverse people. In some ways The Illusion of Separateness confirms the butterfly effect - that even a small action in one place will have consequences. Although the character's actions Van Booy describes are not as simple as a butterfly flapping its wings, the consequences of those actions are felt in the future.
It is hard to say too much about this novel without giving away too much. The descriptions and development of the characters are sparse and esoteric, but ultimately brilliant. While there is not a lot of action, this quiet, gentle book uncovers the aftermath the trials and horrors of war can inflict upon the survivors - and how those involved do survive.
As I was reading I had a sense that Van Booy very carefully planned each word, each sentence, to eventually build the circuitous path showing our shared humanity. What we do does influence us in the present, but ultimately it will effect the future too. This is a thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent novel. And, while short, it is not an easy book to read. It is a book that requires an attentive reader to savor every word, take note of every connection.
very highly recommended
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC for review purposes.