Title: The Separation
Genre: SF/Alternate History
Published: Gollancz, 2004
Purchased: Waterstones, Cambridge, 2004-02-26, £6.99
If there's a theme here, it's twos, and splitting.
JL 'Jack' and JL 'Joe' Sawyer are identical twins who row a coxless pair at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where Jack (but not Joe) meets Hess when they are awarded their bronze medal. They also rescue a young Jewish woman, whom Joe marries shortly thereafter. Jack joins the RAF as a bomber pilot, Joe becomes a conscientious objector working for the Red Cross in the London Blitz.
And then, in 1941, when Hess makes that famous flight to Scotland, history splits. In one version, Joe is killed, the war proceeds as we remember it. In the other, Jack is killed returning from a raid, Joe helps with the peace effort, and World War II ends in 1941 with Hess becoming Fuhrer and the Jews getting their own state Masada in Madagascar. But this version of history keeps branching, and we're not really sure whether it happens at all.
As well as the twins, and the twin histories, there are also two Hesses, two Churchills, twos all over the place. The branching form of the novel gets almost fractal in its complexity, and the ending leads one questioning what really happens even in the 1941 peace branch.
I'm not surprised this won the Clarke Award last year - it was up against strong competition, but it's a powerful book, and one that warrants rereading.