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A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts

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From the critically acclaimed, bestselling author of Birdsong, new fiction about love and war—five transporting stories and five unforgettable lives, linked across centuries. In Second World War Poland, a young prisoner closes his eyes and pictures going to bat on a sunlit English cricket ground. Across the yard of a Victorian poorhouse, a man is too ashamed to acknowledge From the critically acclaimed, bestselling author of Birdsong, new fiction about love and war—five transporting stories and five unforgettable lives, linked across centuries. In Second World War Poland, a young prisoner closes his eyes and pictures going to bat on a sunlit English cricket ground. Across the yard of a Victorian poorhouse, a man is too ashamed to acknowledge the son he gave away. In a 19th-century French village, an old servant understands - suddenly and with awe - the meaning of the Bible story her master is reading to her. On a summer evening in the Catskills in 1971, a skinny girl steps out of a Chevy with a guitar and with a song that will send shivers through her listeners' skulls. A few years from now, in Italy, a gifted scientist discovers links between time and the human brain and between her lover's novel and his life. Throughout the five masterpieces of fiction that make up A Possible Life, exquisitely drawn and unforgettable characters risk their bodies, hearts and minds in pursuit of the manna of human connection. Between soldier and lover, parent and child, servant and master, and artist and muse, important pleasures and pains are born of love, separations and missed opportunities. These interactions - whether successful or not - also affect the long trajectories of characters' lives. Provocative and profound, Sebastian Faulks's dazzling new novel journeys across continents and centuries not only to entertain with superb old-fashioned storytelling but to show that occasions of understanding between humans are the one thing that defines us - and that those moments, however fluid, are the one thing that endures.


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From the critically acclaimed, bestselling author of Birdsong, new fiction about love and war—five transporting stories and five unforgettable lives, linked across centuries. In Second World War Poland, a young prisoner closes his eyes and pictures going to bat on a sunlit English cricket ground. Across the yard of a Victorian poorhouse, a man is too ashamed to acknowledge From the critically acclaimed, bestselling author of Birdsong, new fiction about love and war—five transporting stories and five unforgettable lives, linked across centuries. In Second World War Poland, a young prisoner closes his eyes and pictures going to bat on a sunlit English cricket ground. Across the yard of a Victorian poorhouse, a man is too ashamed to acknowledge the son he gave away. In a 19th-century French village, an old servant understands - suddenly and with awe - the meaning of the Bible story her master is reading to her. On a summer evening in the Catskills in 1971, a skinny girl steps out of a Chevy with a guitar and with a song that will send shivers through her listeners' skulls. A few years from now, in Italy, a gifted scientist discovers links between time and the human brain and between her lover's novel and his life. Throughout the five masterpieces of fiction that make up A Possible Life, exquisitely drawn and unforgettable characters risk their bodies, hearts and minds in pursuit of the manna of human connection. Between soldier and lover, parent and child, servant and master, and artist and muse, important pleasures and pains are born of love, separations and missed opportunities. These interactions - whether successful or not - also affect the long trajectories of characters' lives. Provocative and profound, Sebastian Faulks's dazzling new novel journeys across continents and centuries not only to entertain with superb old-fashioned storytelling but to show that occasions of understanding between humans are the one thing that defines us - and that those moments, however fluid, are the one thing that endures.

30 review for A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    A Possible Life is comprised of five stories – five lives – that are tied together not through the characters or plotting, but through time, space and connections. Had I reviewed after reading the first tale – set in 1938 and focused on Geoffrey Talbot – I may have very well given this book just 3 stars. The story of a middling man who ends up veering from the career course his father had hoped for and eventually ends up being betrayed to the Gestapo while on a mission at first seemed archetypal A Possible Life is comprised of five stories – five lives – that are tied together not through the characters or plotting, but through time, space and connections. Had I reviewed after reading the first tale – set in 1938 and focused on Geoffrey Talbot – I may have very well given this book just 3 stars. The story of a middling man who ends up veering from the career course his father had hoped for and eventually ends up being betrayed to the Gestapo while on a mission at first seemed archetypal and evocative. The unspeakable horrors of the concentration camp are powerfully told, but it almost seems as if the reader has read these descriptions before. It soon becomes clear, though, that this is Sebastian Faulks’ focal point: communal memory. As readers, we know these stories: the man who survives Gestapo atrocities and seeks to regain his ordinary life…the Dickensian orphan Billy in Victorian London who survives through sheer force of character…the brilliant scientist who struggles with the big questions of life and love…the simpleminded and devout orphan Jeanne in rural France… and the skinny, long-haired American singer who leverages her life for her art. All of these characters are intimately familiar to us. The joy of reading this book is unearthing the connections between such disparate characters. Over and over again, details resonate, pricking our minds with the question, “Where have I heard this before?” For example, Geoffrey Talbot will enter a French farmhouse where he is ultimately betrayed; a century earlier, the peasant Jeanne will also have confronted a betrayal. Orphaned Jeanne will be reduced to sleeping on a mat of straw; years later, Billy Webb, another orphan, will be forced to make his bed on a mat of straw at a workhouse. And that workhouse? The songwriter Anya King, in the 1970s, will consider purchasing a flat in that Victorian workhouse where Billy once lived. And so on. “I don’t think you ever understand your life – not till it’s finished and probably not then either,” Billy reflects. Later, the scientist Elena, thinks, “If not just the brain but the quirks that made the individual from uncomposed matter only, it was hard to be sure where the edges of one such being ended and another began.” Life, Sebastian Faulks suggest, is difficult to fathom without consideration of our shared memory, the way we interconnect with those who came before and will come after us, and how all our lives fit into some vast unknowable puzzle. This is, I believe, truly a brilliant book. Jack – who narrates the songwriter Anya’s section – may have said it best: “The events and sensations, the stories and the things that make me what I am in the eyes of other people, the list of facts that make my life…They could be mine, they might be yours.”

  2. 5 out of 5

    jhldjfau

    Is there such a thing as a soul? If not, what makes us so certain than the lives we lead and the identities we inhabit are even relevant? Do you ever wonder, for example, what would have happened if you'd taken that road, instead of this one? And is it possible to know which one, of all the dozens of decisions we make every day, will be the one whose significance will echo on down for generations to come? These are the melancholy questions that permeate Sebastian Faulks' new book, "A Possible Li Is there such a thing as a soul? If not, what makes us so certain than the lives we lead and the identities we inhabit are even relevant? Do you ever wonder, for example, what would have happened if you'd taken that road, instead of this one? And is it possible to know which one, of all the dozens of decisions we make every day, will be the one whose significance will echo on down for generations to come? These are the melancholy questions that permeate Sebastian Faulks' new book, "A Possible Life". I call it a book, so that I can get on and review it - leaving the literati to bicker about whether it qualifies as a novel or not. Because on the surface, it doesn't. The five separate stories have no apparent links to each other apart from their shared spine. The first story is set in 1938 and revolves around Geoffrey Talbot, a fairly underwhelming middle-class fellow who, in an unlikely series of events, finds himself behind the wire in a concentration camp in Poland. The second story maps out the life of Billy, a Dickensian sort of character raised in a poorhouse who succeeds in life through sheer force of will and entrepreneurial spirit. The third story is set in the future and belongs to Elena, an Italian scientist whose life's work has culminated in the irrefutable evidence that our sense of consciousness is merely a specific location in the brain whose cyclical processes aid in the reproduction of matter. In other words, there's no such thing as a "soul". In fact, everything about human behaviour and emotion can be scientifically explained. Fourth we meet Jeanne, living at the other end of the spectrum in early 1800s in France. Her story is less about her own life than the people she devotes herself to in her work as a servant. The final story and the one that hammers the book for six, is that of American folk singer/songwriter Anya King. It is told from the perspective of the man who loved her and lost her, and whose entire life afterwards was insignificant to the point of almost physical anguish. Each story is satisfyingly complete, which, although I swear I don't want to be drawn into the debate, is an argument in favour of "A Possible Life" as a novel. Short stories, as a rule, don't lay out a life in its entirety so you can examine it piece by piece. In fact, more often, you'll drop in on a short story right in the middle of the action only to be left to fill in the gaps when the narrative just as suddenly drops you in mid-air. In Faulks' book, in contrast, each of his independent stories are offered up whole. They are, in effect, biographies of lives with all the significant forks and intersections laid bare for scrutiny. Taken individually, the stories reveal intricate tapestries whose threads you can trace from here, all the way over there. Take Geoffrey Talbot as an example. He might never have found himself disposing of bodies into a burning chute had he not slunk off for a beer in the pub that fateful night when he was meant to be mapping out attack routes in a training exercise with a fellow officer. Geoffrey survived the war but was a broken man afterwards, unable to permit himself the joy of companionship, much less love. As an old man, alone, lonely, he cannot seem to reconcile why it is that he fought so hard to preserve his life. Through the hell of the war and the torment of peace, he placed one foot in front of the other with all the effort he could muster, but never once stopped to ask himself 'Why?'. As if there is no logic to it he says: "I have been violently loyal to myself."The stories also throw a torch on the randomness of life. The things that boil down to nothing more than chance, circumstance, bad timing. When opportunities arise in Billy's life, for example, he is wide-eyed mentally and prepared physically, thanks only to his brutally unforgiving childhood. That hardship would not have been his destiny, had it not been for the Crimean war that stole his father's livelihood and sent them broke. Billy's story is intriguing enough on its own but what resonates is his final statement, that all he'd ever wanted to do in life was work hard enough that his own children would never have to know what 'the grinding of stones' feels like. It is as though Billy is asserting that the only way to understand life and all its unlikely chances is to bend with it, but not to break: "being sure you [keep] your mind so empty that you [have] no thoughts at all. That's what I've done for [my kids], that's my gift to them and to all their children ever after, so don't talk to me about being hard." And what Faulks' book would be complete without a fair dose of irony? The stories of Elena the scientist, and Jeanette the unquestioning Christian, are juxtaposed perfectly for this purpose. Elena has sought to understand her life, and all the matters to do with existence, by filtering every human emotion through a scientific lens. And yet, for all of that, no amount of rationalisation of her feelings towards Bruno can numb the raw physical reaction when he abandons her. "His absence was a wound that never ceased to seep and throb. It was absurd, she told herself. What mattered was the love they felt; whether or not they were in the same room was of no significance. It would not be long before, as physical mass, they were both decomposing underground; so what did it matter if meanwhile their bodies were in different places? [..] So much did she rely on her rational brain to guide her life that she was angry when it failed her now, when no process of reason could stop her wound from aching".Jeanette, on the other hand, is genuinely confused by the motivations of the people around her. She knows that the things in life that can be explained exist in plain sight, whereas what is not known is the domain of God. Hers is not to question, but with a bit of luck and certainly faith, to get on with the business of living. She is simplistic, but not, as the narrator tells us "ignorant" at all:"Clemence and Marcel had shown her that people change and are not the same all their lives. Madame Lagarde taught her that sometimes they cannot change."Wherein you then find yourself wondering: Who is happier, Elena or Jeanette? The twin issues of love and loss are probably the most enduring themes underlying all the stories, but it is never more stark than in that of singer-songwriter Anya King's. Many other issues besides the most grimly depressing are explored as well; from the idea of the self as multiple stage-actors to the contention that it is possible to love two people, if not equally then concurrently. But it is the exploration of what it means to love someone so wholly and unreservedly that you would walk away if they asked you to, that really packs a punch in this story. Anya is not an ordinary woman; in fact, she is so vivid that it is incredible to think that I cannot just dial her up on iTunes and download one of her albums. I came to know her songs as intimately as if they were a soundtrack for the entire book; a quirk that is undoubtedly intentional on Faulks' part. Jack, or 'Freddy' as Anya affectionately calls him, tells of their affair looking back from the vantage point of his 60 years. His love for Anya has never faded, in fact, over time it appears magnified beside everything else. With echoes of Frank from the pages of "On Green Dolphin Street", Jack says: "It pained my heart to think of what I'd lost, but I didn't go with the feeling. Sometimes with these powerful emotions, you're crushed. You just flail around and hope for the pain to stop, for some bastard to stop stabbing you in the guts. Other times if you're lucky, you can kind of skate along the rim, look into the precipice and it's almost like you have a choice - to plunge in or turn your head away."The great emotive impulse at stake here has to do with sacrifice; what are you willing to forego, in order to pursue what you know you must do in life? Or the flip-side of that coin: what are you willing to sacrifice in order to allow the person you love to pursue what you know they must do in life. Whether it is a creative calling, the greater good, or just doing the right thing. What are you willing to endure towards that end? This is Jack's dilemma, and the reason Anya, fully conscious yet far more vulnerable than she ever lets on, loves him all the more. This is not a simple book to be done with. It is, as others have already said, like a symphony which continues to resonate long after the final notes have been played. Or an album that you need to listen to again and again. I kept pondering the title "A Possible Life"; and for that matter, the titles of Anya's songs - "You Next Time". "Another Life". "No Turning Back". And of course "Hold Me". I felt certain they were all clues to a riddle I was going to be able to solve if I just looked hard enough. Certainly there are links between the stories, both implied and literal: Jack rents an apartment in London which just so happens to be Billy's old workhouse. The Madonna that Elena treasures as a child is the very same figurine that Jeanette holds in her hands two centuries earlier. And we recognise that the old farm house where Jeanette lives most her life is the same place where Geoffrey is betrayed years later. At first, these discoveries are exhilarating; a promise that everything in the universe is connected in some way. A unique purpose or reason exists after all! But as soon as you start digging deeper, you hit dead ends. The trail goes cold. Proof irrefutable, that even though we may inhabit the same spaces from time to time, and in minute ways we certainly influence one other, in the end we are separate beings. The why's and wherefores, the what if's and maybe's, will never be entirely resolved. In this way, Jack's parting sentiment, referencing in more ways than one the characters that have gone before him, serves as a kind of poignant summary for the whole book:"I stood among the throng of people waiting patiently to cross and tried to mingle with them, to disappear into a greater mass of human life, hoping I might lose my pain, my sense of self, in that tireless commotion."To the critics and reviewers out there who seem hell-bent on deciding whether this book is a novel or a collection of short stories, as though anything that defies categorisation is unworthy of 'real consideration', I feel sorry for you. While you were busy trying to stick your labels on non-adhesive surfaces, you just missed one of the most moving pieces of literature I have read in a very long time. Full disclosure: Although I received my copy of "A Possible Life" free from Random House, I was given neither money nor cocktails for writing this review - damn it!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Velma

    Faulks is apparently a well-respected writer, but I certainly couldn't tell that by A Possible Life; it just made me want to look for a possible life in which I hadn't spent several days reading it. Don't get me wrong: I think Mr. Faulks can write. I was intrigued by the premise (five people, five places, five periods in history). I was drawn to the questions he asked about souls and roads not taken. But somehow he just didn't make me care about his characters, not one whit. For example, in one o Faulks is apparently a well-respected writer, but I certainly couldn't tell that by A Possible Life; it just made me want to look for a possible life in which I hadn't spent several days reading it. Don't get me wrong: I think Mr. Faulks can write. I was intrigued by the premise (five people, five places, five periods in history). I was drawn to the questions he asked about souls and roads not taken. But somehow he just didn't make me care about his characters, not one whit. For example, in one of my progress updates I wrote: "I liked the Elena character better than her two predecessors, but that's like saying I like eating liver better than I like eating raw hamburger or a bowl of flour." You get the idea. My other criticism is that there was the whiff of Cloud Atlas about it. Maybe it was just the structural plot device he used, or maybe I'm just hallucinating it, but there it is. But I won't write this author off just yet. Just like one bad waitress doesn't a crummy restaurant make, so too does one "meh" novel not indict Sebastian Faulks. If I run across Birdsong or another of his books on a shelf at Booklegger, I'll pick it up & give him another shot. But he'd better come through with better service with that one or I'm going to have to complain to his manager. The book I read and reviewed here was an Advance Review Copy (ARC)/galley provided to me by the publisher via my local Indie bookstore. I did not accept any payment in exchange for a review, and was in no way influenced to provide a positive review. I now consider my ass covered, FTC.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    How does the brain work? After starting this book I put my life on hold. I was hooked from the beginning. The book is a conglomeration of five people’s stories. Some stories are stronger than others but the best ones are wonderful. They’re set mostly in Europe with one taking place in New York and Los Angeles. Anya’s story is about a girl’s rise to fame in the folk/pop scene of the 1970’s. It reads like a dream yet a dream based in reality because it felt musically and emotionally deadly accurate How does the brain work? After starting this book I put my life on hold. I was hooked from the beginning. The book is a conglomeration of five people’s stories. Some stories are stronger than others but the best ones are wonderful. They’re set mostly in Europe with one taking place in New York and Los Angeles. Anya’s story is about a girl’s rise to fame in the folk/pop scene of the 1970’s. It reads like a dream yet a dream based in reality because it felt musically and emotionally deadly accurate. It has humor, love, longing; a miniature masterpiece in my opinion. Some of the other stories aren’t quite as compelling (though there’s another favorite of mine hidden in the batch). I’ll leave you to discover your own. The time periods vary as well from the early 1800’s to the mid twenty-first century. Each story has a central event and all the action pivots around that. The study of the brain and the definition of what it is to be human is also central to each tale. In some this is overt; in others it’s more oblique. There are metaphysical/spiritual overtones as well. Some of the other themes include choices, striving to succeed, the impact and definition of betrayal, scientific research and what is provable, and the cost of fame. With the myriad of settings I have to wonder if Faulks is saying time and place are not important. People stay the same as do their fundamental concerns. I’d have to agree with that premise. As I said I found the stories uneven but the best ones are so darn good I defy you to stop reading. This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dem

    A possible Life by Sebastian Fauls is a NOVEL IN FIVE PARTS. This is actually a collection of five stories which I wish I had known before I read this Novel.(Not stated on the front cover of novel that I purchased). I had read three of the stories before I realised that this was a collection of short/longish stories ranging from 40 pages to just under a 100 pages. The stories span continents, centuries and subject matter, some I liked and others I did not enjoy at all. The first story while I foun A possible Life by Sebastian Fauls is a NOVEL IN FIVE PARTS. This is actually a collection of five stories which I wish I had known before I read this Novel.(Not stated on the front cover of novel that I purchased). I had read three of the stories before I realised that this was a collection of short/longish stories ranging from 40 pages to just under a 100 pages. The stories span continents, centuries and subject matter, some I liked and others I did not enjoy at all. The first story while I found interesting it lacked character development and I found myself disconnected from the stories in this way many times. I also thought the sense of time and place was poorly written and nothing like Faulk's other novels. When I would put this book down for a few hours I found it very difficult when picking it up again to remember what I had read previously. Having said that I did like story 1 and 3 but overall a 2 star read for me. Perhaps if you are a fan of short stories you will engage better with this book than I did.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I am a huge fan of Sebastian Faulks, so was very much looking forward to this book. Like others on this forum I was slightly concerned that it was several stories rather than an entire novel, however while the links of each story are tenuous this did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book, which overall was a very contemplative read. All five stories are good, but for my money the vaguely sci-fi 'Everything Can Be Explained' was the most moving and 'You Next Time' the most enthralling I am a huge fan of Sebastian Faulks, so was very much looking forward to this book. Like others on this forum I was slightly concerned that it was several stories rather than an entire novel, however while the links of each story are tenuous this did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book, which overall was a very contemplative read. All five stories are good, but for my money the vaguely sci-fi 'Everything Can Be Explained' was the most moving and 'You Next Time' the most enthralling. Of the latter, anyone who loves listening to and reading about music will enjoy the tale Faulks has woven about the creative process, the desire to know the truth of the 'stories behind the songs' and the casualties along the way. I read this with as much excitement as I would the bio of an actual artist and regret only that it is not possible to listen to the wondrous songs he describes so well. "I had the sensation of listening at a double level - thrilled senseless both by the song and the fact that there was someone alive with the talent to write and sing it". I hear you Mr.Faulks.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    Stories about how lives are intertwined and touched by people who know and don't know each other. Relationships that exist that people are both aware and unaware of. This is a lovely set of tales.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Five short stories, but not a novel. An object in one story appears in another, or there's a passing reference to the same place. More than one character feels guilty when a new love affair edges out a lover who did nothing wrong, and more than one character shuts him- or herself off from love altogether. There seems to be some theme about how we're all just recycled matter, but this isn't a book about past lives or rebirth. Really, each story and each character stands alone (so the subtitle puz Five short stories, but not a novel. An object in one story appears in another, or there's a passing reference to the same place. More than one character feels guilty when a new love affair edges out a lover who did nothing wrong, and more than one character shuts him- or herself off from love altogether. There seems to be some theme about how we're all just recycled matter, but this isn't a book about past lives or rebirth. Really, each story and each character stands alone (so the subtitle puzzles me). Each story is quiet, understated, and covers most of the life of its main character. Each main character is a loner and a survivor--of a Nazi death camp, a Victorian workhouse, or simply a lover's abandonment. I thought the first story was the most moving, about an English spy in WWII France who ends up in Auschwitz or a place like it. I thought the most imaginative story was the one set in the near future, about an Italian girl who grows up to discover exactly where human consciousness comes from. I expected the last story, about a singer at the beginning of her career in the early 1970s, to explain to me why the book is called a novel in five parts, to pull it all together. It didn't, or at least not directly enough for me to figure out. I felt my patience tried by all the minutiae of songwriting and studio recording for a singer who never existed. Kind of like I felt some years ago, when kids would want to tell me all the backstories of Pokeman characters. But as with all the stories, there was some beautiful writing.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    A Possible Life is is described as a "novel in five parts." It is true that there are five distinct stories. The first, set in 1938 is about an English school teacher who goes off to war and returns changed, but is somehow able to make peace with that change and carry on with his life, however lonely it may be. The second is set in 1859 and tells the story of a boy who is sent to the workhouse by his parents. He eventually makes his way out of the workhouse and becomes successful. This was my fa A Possible Life is is described as a "novel in five parts." It is true that there are five distinct stories. The first, set in 1938 is about an English school teacher who goes off to war and returns changed, but is somehow able to make peace with that change and carry on with his life, however lonely it may be. The second is set in 1859 and tells the story of a boy who is sent to the workhouse by his parents. He eventually makes his way out of the workhouse and becomes successful. This was my favorite story of the five. The third is set in 2029 and is not a bad depiction of a possible future. A young woman who struggles to have meaningful relationships with people, including her own parents, finds one person who she loves, but they can't be together. I didn't love the story, but it was still compelling. The fourth story was set in 1822 and was about a woman who spends her entire life caring for someone elses children. It was poignant because in many ways she seemed to be unappreciated, but in the end, she found a connection with the boy of the family who was wounded in war. He took care of her in her old age and her life didn't seem terribly pathetic to me, in the end. The last story was set in 1971 and followed the rise of a musical sensation through the eyes of her lover. I did not enjoy this story at all. The love story was a little nauseating and the main characters seemed to leave all their redeeming qualities behind when they got together. While each story was interesting and compelling in its way (excepting perhaps the last one) they failed to be truly cohesive as a novel. In spite of the faint connections that may be drawn between the stories, I did not find a strong enough thread to create a unifying theme. Even the title question of "How many possible lives?" did not seem to be answered by the stories. Not the author's best work, in my opinion.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette (Again)

    The subtitle, "A Novel in Five Parts," is misleading. This is not a novel by any stretch of anyone's imagination. It's a collection of five longish short stories. Every once in awhile there will be a veiled reference in one story to something in another story, but the connection is nothing bigger than a scintilla. You could say that the stories address some similar themes, but that still doesn't make it a novel. My favorite story was "Anya," the last and longest one. It takes place in America in The subtitle, "A Novel in Five Parts," is misleading. This is not a novel by any stretch of anyone's imagination. It's a collection of five longish short stories. Every once in awhile there will be a veiled reference in one story to something in another story, but the connection is nothing bigger than a scintilla. You could say that the stories address some similar themes, but that still doesn't make it a novel. My favorite story was "Anya," the last and longest one. It takes place in America in a time period I can remember, so that probably accounts for my greater appreciation.

  11. 5 out of 5

    LindyLouMac

    My introduction to the novels of Sebastian Faulks was in 1999 when I read Charlotte Grey which still remains one of my favourites from this talented author. Sometimes I read a novel where quotes just seem to jump out of the page at me, another time it is hard to find even one for discussion at the book club I belong to. Sebastian Faulk's novels have usually been in the former category, A Possible Life was no exception and I am going to do something I do not normally do in the body of a review an My introduction to the novels of Sebastian Faulks was in 1999 when I read Charlotte Grey which still remains one of my favourites from this talented author. Sometimes I read a novel where quotes just seem to jump out of the page at me, another time it is hard to find even one for discussion at the book club I belong to. Sebastian Faulk's novels have usually been in the former category, A Possible Life was no exception and I am going to do something I do not normally do in the body of a review and include three quotes. These quotes are part of the essence of the emotional depth behind the stories. “Sometimes my whole life seems like a dream; occasionally I think that someone else has lived it for me. The events and the sensations, the stories and the things that make me what I am in the eyes of other people, the list of facts that make my life ... They could be mine, they might be yours.” “If not just the brain but the quirks that made the individual were composed of recycled matter only, it was hard to be sure where the edges of one such being ended and another person began.” “I don't think you ever understand your life - not till it's finished and probably not then either. The more I live the less I seem to understand.” While I was reading this and immediately afterwards whilst thinking about this review I had very mixed emotions about the whole concept of this novel which the author has called 'a novel in five parts'. Maybe it has something to do with the emotional year I have had in my personal life but I found this to be an extremely profound and thought provoking novel, just read again the quotes above! If as one of the characters Elena ponders 'our brains are composed of re-cycled matter' it is difficult to be sure where one one human ends and another begins. Maybe this is what the author is trying to show us, how we are all subtly connected through shared encounters, thoughts and impressions. Crossing continents and times from the 19C to the future this is a story in five parts. An English teacher, a landlord of London slums, a French servant, an Italian scientist and finally a British record producer in the USA all share the drama of their particular lives and how lives can be shaped by love and opportunity. There are links across time and place for example the workhouse and French cottage are mentioned in more than one part, plus the character in the future, has dreams about the past we have already read about. In conclusion this was an unsettling read but one which will satisfy his many established fans and may well draw in new readers as once again he has shown the breadth of diversity in his writing. http://lindyloumacbookreviews.blogspo...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Derek James Baldwin

    I'm about 100 pages into this and oh my giddy aunt it sucks _so_ badly. I wonder if "Sebastian Faulks" is a persona for established, reputable, writers to use when they fancy a diversion into trash fiction but would prefer to not be associated with it - like an "Alan Smithee" film.... So far this "novel in 5 parts" has featured a gung-ho public school type, nifty at cricket and all that, and after a page or two under-achieving in some fourth rate boarding school he joins the army and very soon e I'm about 100 pages into this and oh my giddy aunt it sucks _so_ badly. I wonder if "Sebastian Faulks" is a persona for established, reputable, writers to use when they fancy a diversion into trash fiction but would prefer to not be associated with it - like an "Alan Smithee" film.... So far this "novel in 5 parts" has featured a gung-ho public school type, nifty at cricket and all that, and after a page or two under-achieving in some fourth rate boarding school he joins the army and very soon ends up as a PoW during WWII and is put to work in a concentration camp. Lots of gore and guards shouting "Schnell! Schnell" - it's just like Biggles but with gratuitous descriptions of body parts. Anyway, he escapes in a deus ex machina that was propped up against the barbed wire fence (or something).... and as one paragraph ends with the dogs baying and gunshots (and cries of "Schnell! Schnell!") not far away the next begins with our hero safely back in England. Helpfully a colleague soon comes along so that he can explain the in-between bits of plot in a few terse sentences. The next section centres on a "would you Adam and Eve it" Cockney type, in the olden days, who makes good. He gets his whole family out of the workhouse and learns to read along the way. He's basically Alan Sugar but without the bagels. And in the olden days. The third section, I vaguely recall before slipping into a coma last night, begins in the year 2029.... All of which gives me the distinct impression that "Sebastian Faulks" has read Cloud Atlas and thought "I could do that...." but on the evidence so far he really really really can't. ... 100 pages later... I'm still plugging away. After the structural basis for all human consciousness was discovered in part 3, in approximately the year 2035, and an interlude exploring the life of the least interesting woman in the village in part 4, I find myself in part 5 knee-deep in first-person narrative set somewhere in the South of the USA and really the only thing keeping me reading is the certainty that sometime or other the point of all this will become apparent. I am expecting a revelation at least on a par with the final series of Lost.... ... But no, not even that good. I will say that Part 5 is easily the best part of the book, and I suppose it vaguely connects the other parts, if you count a vague reference to Hoxton being the site of the workhouse that's central to Part 2 as in some way meaningful, which I don't. The conceit that we are all made up of atoms and they all get recycled and we're all in this together (pace George Osborne) is a little trite, to be kind. So: a novel in 5 parts? Definitely not. It's a novella that he has written before, spliced with three short stories, then another novella (and that is strongly reminiscent of a couple of Iain Banks's e.g. Espedaire Street)... so two stars is a mighty generous assessment in my humble opinion!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ellie

    A Possible Life is described by its author and its publishers as 'a novel in five parts'. And they are welcome to describe it as that if it pleases them. But in reality, it's 5 short stories that have been tweaked to give them some hint of a connection. The 'theme' of the book, in so far as there is one, is that the life we live is just one of many possible lives, that a combination of luck and conscious decision leads us on a path that is but one of many; but that ultimately, to quote from the f A Possible Life is described by its author and its publishers as 'a novel in five parts'. And they are welcome to describe it as that if it pleases them. But in reality, it's 5 short stories that have been tweaked to give them some hint of a connection. The 'theme' of the book, in so far as there is one, is that the life we live is just one of many possible lives, that a combination of luck and conscious decision leads us on a path that is but one of many; but that ultimately, to quote from the final story in the book, "if any of those bits of luck had fallen out a different way and I had had another life, it would in some odd way have been the same - my heart existing by another name." Each of the main characters in the five stories experiences a life-changing event that steers their lives one way, leaving us to ponder what might have been if those events had not happened. The links, though, are tenuous, and the stories are perhaps read better five separate stories, where the reader can have fun picking up the references in each story to any or all of the other 4, rather than trying to work out how the book is supposed to work as a 'novel'. Individually, the stories are all, in their own way, good; well-written, using a variety of styles, variously moving, amusing, touching. Group discussions show that everyone has their own favourite of the five, and their own view of which worked least well; none of the five is universally adored, nor are any universally disliked. The opener, A Different Man, tells the story of Geoffrey, a junior officer in the army inept enough to lose a man on a training mission. Faulks draws on his vast amount of research on military history to describe events in a World War II prisoner of war camp. The writing style is lean, covering much ground in a few pages, while also finding room for some humour. The lost man, Hill from Norfolk, an English county renowned for its flatness, is described as 'quite possibly the last Hill in Norfolk'. The Second Sister is written in the first person, from the point of view of a young boy sent to a Victorian workhouse, who pulls himself up from his poor start to become a property developer. Everything Can Be Explained, set in the near-future, followers Elena as she becomes a scientist seeking the answer to what makes us human, what synapse in our brains allows us the conscious thought that separates us from are simian relatives. A Door Into Heaven describes Jeanne's life as a servant in early 19th Century France. The book wraps up with You Next Time, another first-person story, this time of a 1970s musician and his affair with a famous folk singer. I found both A Different Man and Everything Can Be Explained enjoyable, well- written, moving, humorous at times. The Second Sister I could take or leave. A Door Into Heaven I did nothing for me. You Next Time I need to read again, in a few weeks. Reading it in the context if trying to find the connections that supposedly form the 'novel' resulted in me feeling frustrated and annoyed halfway though this one. I think it's probably a better story than I can give it credit for at the moment, and I will give it a re-read

  14. 4 out of 5

    Indiabookstore

    “Sometimes my whole life seems like a dream; occasionally I think that someone else has lived it for me. The events and the sensations, the stories and the things that make me what I am in the eyes of other people, the list of facts that make my life … They could be mine, they might be yours.” Ever wondered why a certain someone walked into your life but never stayed behind? Or how in a moment of understanding you forgave the one who betrayed you into a world of misery? A Possible Life is a journ “Sometimes my whole life seems like a dream; occasionally I think that someone else has lived it for me. The events and the sensations, the stories and the things that make me what I am in the eyes of other people, the list of facts that make my life … They could be mine, they might be yours.” Ever wondered why a certain someone walked into your life but never stayed behind? Or how in a moment of understanding you forgave the one who betrayed you into a world of misery? A Possible Life is a journey into such memories and persons – life, love and absurd moments that shape them. The novel is in five parts, each a story of a different era; each defined by war, loss, faith, science and creativity. If you begin with an aim to create a connection within this loosely related plots, the deeply engaging narration will make you forget time and intent and lead you into the separate worlds of the writer’s makings. Such is the elegance of the prose and mark of the writing of Sebastian Faulks... For the full review, visit IndiaBookStore.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    I’m not sure why Sebastian Faulks calls his new book “a novel” — I might as well call this review “a poem” — but labeling is the only thing he gets wrong here. The five disparate stories in “A Possible Life” jump around from 1822 to 2029, exploring worlds as unrelated as a German concentration camp and an L.A. music studio. Although there are subtle connections and thematic echoes among them, what’s most remarkable is how distinctively moving each of these pieces is. Such versatility doesn’t come I’m not sure why Sebastian Faulks calls his new book “a novel” — I might as well call this review “a poem” — but labeling is the only thing he gets wrong here. The five disparate stories in “A Possible Life” jump around from 1822 to 2029, exploring worlds as unrelated as a German concentration camp and an L.A. music studio. Although there are subtle connections and thematic echoes among them, what’s most remarkable is how distinctively moving each of these pieces is. Such versatility doesn’t come as a surprise. Over the past 30 years, this talented British author has written short biographies, novels set across the 20th century, a novel that works through the alphabet, another that focuses on a single dinner party, and even a James Bond knock-off to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s birth. But this is his first foray into short fiction, which makes “A Possible Life” a satisfying demonstration of his range. These stories sneak up on you, gently ingratiate themselves, get you settled in comfortably and then batter your heart. None more so than the first, “Geoffrey,” a novella about an athletic young man who strolls through university, lands a job at a prep school and then finds himself in officers training during World War II. He’s more prepared for cricket than battle, and the scenes of him and his men wandering around the English countryside lull us with light comedy until one of the soldiers drowns near a golf course. “I suppose there’ll be a dreadful stink about this,” Geoffrey says. That quip curdles as Geoffrey ventures into Occupied France and then finds himself in a Nazi death camp, which he experiences with the kind of innocence and confusion that history has burned from our minds. But no matter how much you may think you’re inured to these horrors, Faulks will shock you. Here are fresh cruelties in a place where the bureaucracy of genocide assembled an efficient staff of psychopaths and sadists. This is easy material to get wrong, to overplay, to exploit as Holocaust porn, but Faulks writes in a calm, measured voice that’s mesmerizing in its authenticity. As the story moves beyond the war, it becomes no less gripping, even as it grows stiller, a pensive reflection on the cost of surviving, of witnessing. It’s an extraordinary work — full of melancholy and “a touch of unsought grace” that comes to a decent man thrown into the most obscene few acres on Earth during the 20th century. The other four stories turn this theme in different directions, depicting ordinary people who are buffeted about by circumstances and realize the impact of their choices only long after the time for choosing has passed. If there’s any common element among these stories, it’s their focus on thoughtful men and women orphaned in one way or another. Cut off prematurely from their families, Faulks’s protagonists have a heightened sense of just how easily they might have led very different lives. “Billy” is a well-made tale about a Victorian lad who claws his way up from the poorhouse to the docks and eventually learns a trade. What could be a Horatio Alger exemplum of self-improvement, though, is quickly complicated by irreducible moral conundrums. Despite years of deprivation, when Billy finally scrapes together some money and begins gentrifying old houses, his early experiences have not leavened his sympathies much. “I don’t know what happened to the families we kicked out,” he says blithely, “but they all owed months in rent anyway.” If that irony is too heavy-handed, the course of Billy’s romantic life is more surprising and complex. “I don’t think you ever understand your life,” he says, looking back at the bizarre turn of events, “not till it’s finished and probably not then either.” That search for self-understanding takes two very different forms in subsequent stories. The only piece set in the future, “Elena,” describes the mid-21st century when our Great Recession has collapsed into the “Great Slump.” Avoiding any sci-fi elements, Faulks depicts a world much like our own but shabbier, a Grover Norquist fantasy of collapsing public education and exorbitantly expensive health care. Elena is a lonely neuroscientist who discovers the molecular basis of human consciousness but enjoys no satisfaction from that breakthrough. “Knowing one was comprised of recycled matter only and that selfhood was a delusion did not take away the aching of the heart.” It’s a provocative idea, one that Richard Powers and Alex Shakar have explored brilliantly, but it feels a little cramped in this short, busy story. Better is the deceptively tepid tale “Jeanne,” about an early 19th-century nursemaid who “was said to be the most ignorant person in the Limousin village where she had lived most of her life.” Pious and incurious, Jeanne takes care of one family’s children for decades without incident, isolated by actual poverty and the poverty of her imagination. Although precise and sensitively written, the story seems queerly uneventful until Faulks ends with a flashback to a moment of spiritual crisis in Jeanne’s life. It’s startling and strange, the sort of unsettling insight one gets from the finest of Flannery O’Connor’s work. The longest piece in this thoughtful collection comes last. “Anya” charts the international rise of a pretty folk singer who seeks out pain to make her sad lyrics more authentic. It’s impressively packed with the mechanics of songwriting and groovy details about touring, negotiating contracts, renting studios, hiring backup players, mixing tracks, even designing the record cover. In this pre-iTunes story, Faulks’s comments about the integrity of albums and the meaningful interplay of their carefully ordered songs sound as archaic as his earlier descriptions of Jeanne milking a cow. He’s also got the 1970s vibe just right, with a narrator named Jack who skirts awfully close to parody of the bell-bottom era: “She was my destiny,” he sighs, “and all I could do was ride it.” The story takes too long to develop sufficient surprise or conflict — all that free-love equanimity is bad for fiction — but its final pages offer a profound reflection on the mysterious parts we play in one another’s lives. http://www.washingtonpost.com/enterta...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Can you not be sure of what's going on and still like a book? The packaging of "A Possible Life" hints at something other than a collection of short stories: "A Novel in Five Parts." After a pleasurable once-through, highwayscribery is not exactly sure what binds these otherwise tasty tales together. In the fifth and final piece the narrator dwells on what might represent a common thread/unifying principle to the work under scrutiny here. "I was almost sixty years old, but I didn't understand anythi Can you not be sure of what's going on and still like a book? The packaging of "A Possible Life" hints at something other than a collection of short stories: "A Novel in Five Parts." After a pleasurable once-through, highwayscribery is not exactly sure what binds these otherwise tasty tales together. In the fifth and final piece the narrator dwells on what might represent a common thread/unifying principle to the work under scrutiny here. "I was almost sixty years old, but I didn't understand anything. It all in the end seemed to have been a matter of purest chance. But for a succession of tiny pieces of good fortune, I might never have had a glimpse of Weepah Way [his upstate New York farm], or Anya King [the subject of this tale]. Yet I also new that if any of those bits of luck had fallen out in a different way and I had had another life, it would in some odd way have been the same - my heart existing, as Anya put it, by a different name." Or not. Let's see. The first story involves Geoffrey, whose "middle rank" may have been the determining factor in his internment at a Nazi concentration camp. The harrowing portrait of that experience, and the gentler one of the peculiar life in prep school England stand out. The second story involves Billy, who lives in England during the second half of the 19th century. Poverty might have been the overriding factor to his existence, save for his personal moxy, which sets up a kind of Horatio Alger yarn gobbled up so readily by we Yanks. Guess our Protestant work ethic came from somewhere. Here, author Sebastian Faulk's recuperation or remembrance of the workhouse where parents sent children they could not afford to feed and clothe is strong coffee, and will make you feel lucky (if you haven't been in a workhouse yourself). "Elena" takes place in 2029 and, with the exception of a few "scanners" and some commentary on the rundown nature of an industrial democracy - Italy - fails for the most part as future lit. It does set up the kind of face-off conjured by Herman Hesse in "Narcissus and Goldmund." Elena is precise, rational and scientific. Bruno emotional and feeling. These two youths struggle to find a common ground that will accommodate their strong mutual attraction. The fourth story, or "part" as the author proposes it, features Jeanne, an illiterate, rural lumpen proletarian. She lives with a petit bourgeois family in provincial France and Faulks does a nice job of helping us see the world through the eyes of a person whose life is burdened with quite so many disadvantages, eyes lacking the clarity of enlightenment. The fifth part is the story of Anya as seen through the eyes of a successful musician of the 1970s rock and roll scene. It's a lovely recall of those buzzy fuzzy times and a remembrance of how people then "lived" music as much as they listened to it. Anya herself is something of a siren, a unique talent, if damaged goods thanks to an unsteady childhood, accessible, but alone as any ship on sweeping sea. Perhaps these are all lives in which environment provide the ultimate arbiter of life direction. Or not. Maybe you can figure it out. To be sure, the writer's clean prose and even-handed story-telling make the challenge worth a shot.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Cartwright-Teakle

    Review Sebastian Faulks is an author who I find to be a bit hit and miss. Rather like Ian McEwen I always find his books to be well written but sometimes I don’t find the stories or characters to be that engaging. Unfortunately I found this book to be more hit than miss. Before reading this book I hadn’t read anything about it and so didn’t know that it was a series of stories rather than a novel. It was only when I got to the third story that I realised that it was a book of short stories rather Review Sebastian Faulks is an author who I find to be a bit hit and miss. Rather like Ian McEwen I always find his books to be well written but sometimes I don’t find the stories or characters to be that engaging. Unfortunately I found this book to be more hit than miss. Before reading this book I hadn’t read anything about it and so didn’t know that it was a series of stories rather than a novel. It was only when I got to the third story that I realised that it was a book of short stories rather than one novel spread over different timeframes. I am never a fan of short stories because they always feel unfinished to me but as short stories go I found these less problematic because they did tell a whole story, not just concentrating on a small incident but spanning large portions of the character’s lives. Unfortunately I didn’t really connect with any of the characters or fell invested in their stories. I felt like there were some interesting ideas but that in a short space it wasn’t possible to really deal with them. I have read some short stories which have managed to entertain me though, as well as children’s books which a probably a similar length, so maybe it was just something about they way they were written. I also felt a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more of a connection between the stories. There was an underlying theme to them all but I really expected a bit more than this, and a passing mention in on story to a character that appeared very briefly in another. Favourite character Elena Duranti Favourite quote “Knowing one was comprised of recycled matter only and that selfhood was a delusion did not take away the aching of the heart.”

  18. 4 out of 5

    Meg

    Five transporting stories and five unforgettable live, linked across centuries! In Second World War Poland, a young prisoner closes his eyes and pictures going to bat on a sunlit English cricket ground. Across the yard of a Victorian poorhouse, a man is too ashamed to acknowledge the son he gave away. In a 19th-century French village, an old servant understands—suddenly and with awe—the meaning of the Bible story her master is reading to her. On a summer evening in the Catskills in 1971, a skinny g Five transporting stories and five unforgettable live, linked across centuries! In Second World War Poland, a young prisoner closes his eyes and pictures going to bat on a sunlit English cricket ground. Across the yard of a Victorian poorhouse, a man is too ashamed to acknowledge the son he gave away. In a 19th-century French village, an old servant understands—suddenly and with awe—the meaning of the Bible story her master is reading to her. On a summer evening in the Catskills in 1971, a skinny girl steps out of a Chevy with a guitar and with a song that will send shivers through her listeners' skulls. A few years from now, in Italy, a gifted scientist discovers links between time and the human brain and between her lover's novel and his life. Throughout this novel of love and war, lore and music, missed opportunities and times; extraordinary characters risk their bodies, hearts and minds in pursuit of the manna of human connection. Sebastian Faulks weaves human lives together masterfully like a work of art in this wonderful novel. It will entertain you, it will inspire you, and it will amaze you. I well believe that this is the book of the new year, and a must read for all! I can't begin to explain just how beautiful this is and how brilliant the book is. Thank you, Sebastian Faulks for writing A Possible Life.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    The subtitle, "A Novel In Five Parts", is both misleading and spot on. Misleading because there are five different narratives that make up the book, not obviously related to each other. The times are different, the situations are different, the outcomes are different. It's only after you read them all that you see what the connections are. It has to do with possibilities, and choices, what we dream and what we become, our intentions and our actions. There are a lot of levels to this book, and I The subtitle, "A Novel In Five Parts", is both misleading and spot on. Misleading because there are five different narratives that make up the book, not obviously related to each other. The times are different, the situations are different, the outcomes are different. It's only after you read them all that you see what the connections are. It has to do with possibilities, and choices, what we dream and what we become, our intentions and our actions. There are a lot of levels to this book, and I found myself pondering the characters' choices and outcomes for quite some time after closing the book. There really is a lot of craft and thought put into each of these stories, and sum of this book is far greater than that of each individual story.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I'm a huge fan of Sebastian Faulks and have read all his previous books. However, I didn't fnd this one of his best. The idea was intrigueing, but it just felt like 5 short stories. I believe there is a connection, but i found it difficult to find!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Hilary Green

    A POSSIBLE LIFE by Sebastian Faulks I have to admit I found this book puzzling. I almost gave up after the first few pages but I'm glad I persisted, if only in an attempt to discover what Faulks is getting at. The book begins with the story of a young man who is recruited into SOE as a secret agent, is betrayed and finds himself in a Nazi extermination camp – events which Faulks himself covered so dramatically in 'Charlotte Grey'. But here they are narrated in the flat, unemotional style of a poli A POSSIBLE LIFE by Sebastian Faulks I have to admit I found this book puzzling. I almost gave up after the first few pages but I'm glad I persisted, if only in an attempt to discover what Faulks is getting at. The book begins with the story of a young man who is recruited into SOE as a secret agent, is betrayed and finds himself in a Nazi extermination camp – events which Faulks himself covered so dramatically in 'Charlotte Grey'. But here they are narrated in the flat, unemotional style of a police report and framed as just one of a series of occurrences in an unremarkable life. The narrative then jumps to the life of a poor working class boy in London at the end of the nineteenth century; then forward to a futuristic tale of scientific research in the late 21st century; back to a remote village in pre-revolutionary France and then to the rock and folk music scene of 1970s America. All these stories I found much more engaging than the first one, which seemed designed to keep the reader at a distance; but do they add up to something more than the parts? As far as I can make out, Faulks's thesis is that the individual life is an illusion. We are all made up from the atoms and elements which constituted other people's bodies in earlier times and the sense of the unique personal self is purely an biological accident of evolution. This is an interesting philosophical proposition, but in my opinion it is not enough to turn what is in essence a series of short novellas into a coherent whole.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Green

    This book posed numerous problems for me, particularly having spent many weeks prior to its release reading through his other novels. I felt, on the whole, that this was a book far too close to its predecessor Human Traces. They both approach similar themes, existentialism and the nature of humanity, but I felt A Possible Life did this with far less subtlety. Instead of the extended prose which made the reader pose questions to themselves, here Faulks wrote them for you, with the text serving the This book posed numerous problems for me, particularly having spent many weeks prior to its release reading through his other novels. I felt, on the whole, that this was a book far too close to its predecessor Human Traces. They both approach similar themes, existentialism and the nature of humanity, but I felt A Possible Life did this with far less subtlety. Instead of the extended prose which made the reader pose questions to themselves, here Faulks wrote them for you, with the text serving the primary purpose of ensuring you understood the author's intentions behind the novel with no room for misinterpretation. Moreover, this was not just found a few times, but rather established itself in all of the stories to the degree it could be considered a theme itself. So, why four stars? Mostly because a not-quite-as-good-as-Human-Traces novel is still better than the majority of other things I've read this year. The prose is still beautiful and characters still engaging - you just have to wonder if this author has peaked.

  23. 4 out of 5

    David

    Story in a novel is important, of course, but so is masterful prose, which is Sebastian Faulks’ forte in “A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts”. The power of his prose moves each story along, like coasting down a gentle meadow covered with snow. The “five parts” are facets of time and space within the lives of people who dwell within those frames. Each part is like a novella—I’d say between a short-story and a novella, but more contained than just a short story. Each one of these could easily b Story in a novel is important, of course, but so is masterful prose, which is Sebastian Faulks’ forte in “A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts”. The power of his prose moves each story along, like coasting down a gentle meadow covered with snow. The “five parts” are facets of time and space within the lives of people who dwell within those frames. Each part is like a novella—I’d say between a short-story and a novella, but more contained than just a short story. Each one of these could easily be expanded into a full-out novel. I first encountered Faulks in his WWI novel “Birdsong", which I’ve rated and commented on on Goodreads.com. He is an exciting writer and I’m glad that he is maturely young, meaning that he has quite a bit left in him to at least last my lifetime. He’s a writer that couldn't give a damn about glam and loves the English language so much he could never abuse it with the mundane.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I loved his earlier novels and he is still a good writer. But this was NOT a novel in five parts. It was five separate stories, some of which were better than others. (The contemporary ones were weaker and the French housekeeper one) The attempts to stir echoes with details overlapping in the stories didn't work as far as I am concerned.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kirstie

    The first third of this book I wondered why it scored so low but then as it progressed I realized This is 5 short stories in one book, all tied up and linked in together very tenuously in some ways - a blue Madonna that features in two of the stories - but all of them feature a character and their life reflecting how life could have been I liked the first two stories, the second two I didn’t and the last was ok Very different to birdsong except the first one which was based in the war

  26. 4 out of 5

    ☕Laura

    Ratings (1 to 5) Writing: 4 Story: 4 Characters: 4 Emotional impact: 4 Overall rating: 4

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mac

    How to rate this book? Part One, Geoffrey 1938, was disappointing; it felt rushed, a chronology without life or distinction, and the field of the Holocaust has been plowed many times before. In contrast, Part Five, Anya 1971, was compelling, emotionally touching, and intellectually stimulating. Part Five's success was somewhat due to this part's resonance with the ideas in the preceding parts, but mostly it was due to a fascinating central character, Anya, and an insightful heart broken narrator How to rate this book? Part One, Geoffrey 1938, was disappointing; it felt rushed, a chronology without life or distinction, and the field of the Holocaust has been plowed many times before. In contrast, Part Five, Anya 1971, was compelling, emotionally touching, and intellectually stimulating. Part Five's success was somewhat due to this part's resonance with the ideas in the preceding parts, but mostly it was due to a fascinating central character, Anya, and an insightful heart broken narrator, Jack, whom Anya affectionately calls Freddy. This part alone, which felt original, distinctive, real, was worth the trip. And the three sections in between? Further unevenness. Part Two, Billy 1859, painted a vivid character with an interesting narrative arc, but this section was not nearly as compelling as Part Five. Elena 2029, in Part Three, brought me back to the sterile, flat quality of the opening story and (by the way) did little to create a world very different from today. And Part Four, Jeanne 1822, fell somewhere in between the extremes, a bit better than "it was OK." Whether coincidence or the fundamental difference, the two parts, Anya and Billy, with first person narrators were more alive, more compelling than the other three told by third person, detached and soulless narrators. So what rating to give? I've come down on three stars, something of an average. I liked the book because of two of the stories and because the entire book made me think about the possible lives we live, each very different though (as the book points out) we all are constructed of the same--the very same--matter.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    This may be fancied a novel in five parts, but it's really five short stories or novellas stitched together without much obvious connection among them. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this trip through the lives of a young man who almost stumbles into intelligence work in WWII, with dire consequences; an orphanage house boy in the mid-1800s who grows up to make a life for himself, but must make a hard choice in love; a young woman in the near future who helps discover the key to consciousness, but loses This may be fancied a novel in five parts, but it's really five short stories or novellas stitched together without much obvious connection among them. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this trip through the lives of a young man who almost stumbles into intelligence work in WWII, with dire consequences; an orphanage house boy in the mid-1800s who grows up to make a life for himself, but must make a hard choice in love; a young woman in the near future who helps discover the key to consciousness, but loses her chance at closeness to another; a nanny in France in the early 1800s whose life was forever shaped by an encounter with a priest when she was a young woman; and a singer whose story is told by the musician who manages her early career and becomes her lover. Of these, the first and last had the greatest hold on me. Geoffrey is captured during his WWII espionage work and ends up in a death camp, hardly realizing what it is until he is there. He escapes but is deeply traumatized and isolated by the experience, until a late in life epiphany makes him whole again. The last story seems so obviously to be a reimagining of Joni Mitchell's life that I was captivated because of its resonance with my generation. Despite good characterizations and interesting stories, though, it is hard for me to say that any of these main characters captured me so strongly that I would have wanted to read a whole novel about them. 3.5 if we had half stars.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alex Harland

    A Possible Life, by Sebastian Faulks. Through one lens it’s a novel, through another it’s a quintet of short stories and through both together, it’s a probing existential exploration of time, humanity and the atomic interconnectivity of the two. That was the beauty of it for me; I thoroughly enjoyed each part, which could have easily formed entire, enticing, novels unto themselves. Yet when I looked at all five stories together, I was plunged into a philosophical odyssey of human existence. The no A Possible Life, by Sebastian Faulks. Through one lens it’s a novel, through another it’s a quintet of short stories and through both together, it’s a probing existential exploration of time, humanity and the atomic interconnectivity of the two. That was the beauty of it for me; I thoroughly enjoyed each part, which could have easily formed entire, enticing, novels unto themselves. Yet when I looked at all five stories together, I was plunged into a philosophical odyssey of human existence. The novel is centered around the humbling inconsequence of individual life and experience - contrasted with the enchantment that our individual atoms, which form our small lives, are repurposed into the infinite immensity of our universe. This contrast is seamlessly presented throughout – far too often to quote. The first story, ‘A Different Man’, follows the life of a young cricket enthusiast, Geoffrey, who deploys with a covert military unit into Nazi occupied France. Geoffrey is taken prisoner by the Nazis, in an old French farmhouse, before being taken away to a distant concentration camp where he bears witness to terrible atrocities. When he finally returns home, he is unceremoniously enveloped by mental illness and finds that, throughout it all, his only escape is in the alternate lives of others. We later see reference to the farmhouse and Geoffrey’s beloved cricket in subsequent stories. In Part III, ‘Everything Can Be Explained’, the narrator shines light on the character’s humility, when her life is compared with shop exteriors that would long outlive her own existence, “She found it humiliating now to recognise that she was after all one of nameless millions whom even the cheap shops on the ring road would comfortably survive and at whose vanished anonymity future tourists would gawp.”. In Part V, ‘You Next Time’, a bewitching singer-songwriter, Anya, explores the stories of others in her songs. Whilst her lover, Freddy, notes with a dark humour found throughout the whole novel, “We seem to be alive just once – in a random skin and bone that starts to move towards disintegration as soon as it’s old enough that you can kiss it.”. The stories unfold with a tidal melancholy that surges through examples of human brutality in Part I and Part II, but continuously persists as each character is humbled by their limited time and reason. That said, there remains a glimmer of hope, seeping into the lines of each story, which is that; the atoms that make us will persist beyond our own existence. In a way, we are part of an eternal cycle of life much greater than our own part. Time is eternal, even if our share in it, is not. My favourite short story was Part V, 'You Next Time'.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    This is really a collection of short stories. As you'd expect the writing is excellent and each story is captivating and slightly held back so that it leaves you guessing about some of the details (like exactly when it's set). However for me there wasn't really anything that bound the stories together into a connected set. They're each about possibilities, that either do or don't come to fruition, but that's as far as it goes. So for me the book as a whole doesn't work and it's certainly not a n This is really a collection of short stories. As you'd expect the writing is excellent and each story is captivating and slightly held back so that it leaves you guessing about some of the details (like exactly when it's set). However for me there wasn't really anything that bound the stories together into a connected set. They're each about possibilities, that either do or don't come to fruition, but that's as far as it goes. So for me the book as a whole doesn't work and it's certainly not a novel.

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