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The distinction of John Knowles' first book, A Separate Peace (1959) presents something of a second novel nemesis, for the reviewer as well. Certainly, over and above the writer's definite talent, the books have very little in common; for the classic conflict of the first, and the austerity of a New England boys' school background, this substitutes a certain irresolution (which may be no more than that of its central character) and spends a sleck summer season in Antibes with peripheral people, on the beaches, in the bars. The sensuous, enervating fascination of the life there has a tremendous sharpness. Less definite is Nick Petrovich who tells this story and, in spite of the first person, retains a certain anonymity. Idling, he is also brooding over his wife Liliane, who now goes off with a wealthy Fasciat count- an old lover. The Algerian problem is never too far away ""water skiing and ideology in the daytime, the cha cha cha and assassinations at night"". And although the Count maintains that ""wine and hashish will never mix"", Nick does become involved if only through Jeannot, a gentle, guileful Arab who moves in on him as his servant. Djian-like Jeannot appears, hovers, disappears, but when he goes off to assume his obligation at his father's death, Nick too has learned through him that one must have something to right for and live for... it is all- at the moment-immensely alive and immediate, and long after the small moral directive is forgotten, this special background, glistening with luxury and laxity, will be remembered. It also provides a cautionary case in point for a softshouldered civilization which too may have to find some larger commitment.

Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 1961
Publisher: Macmillan