The Illusion of Separateness is Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, if Kevin Bacon was a disfigured World War II veteran. Every character has a connection to this man known only as Mr Hugo. To the people around him, his life is a complete mystery. He was a man left for dead in the streets of Paris during World War II, now a retired custodian.
Mr Hugo’s life, and the lives of the various characters, are revealed, often through flashbacks or the memories of other people. They all have their own stories: a little boy grows up to be a movie director, a blind girl finds love, an orphaned baby’s adopted parents move the family to California from Paris. In many cases, decades have passed and Mr Hugo’s actions during the war are still affecting people. It’s like the ripples in a pond after throwing a pebble.
Slowly, over the course of the novel, the events of Mr Hugo’s time in the war are divulged. All the goodness and the ugliness. What does his story reveal about humanity? That people are complicated? People are more than what they seem? It left me feeling conflicted about this man and at the same time sympathetic. As always, I’m amazed at the emotion Simon Van Booy is able to pry out of me.
I took my time reading The Illusion of Separateness. Every sentence has a purpose. The most throwaway comment has significance. I would read a sentence several times, just to make sure I understood what it meant. Not that rereading was a hardship. Each sentence is a treat to be enjoyed over and over.
The structure of the novel is unique. Each new section begins with one of the characters some place in time. It’s not a linear timeline. The beginning is the end. You wouldn’t know the importance of some of the actions of the characters in the first chapter until you’ve finished the book. It’s a beautiful circle.
If you’re feeling a bit disconnected from the world, The Illusion of Separateness is the cure.