The first story is about Geoffrey's transformation from British school master in a private (public in England) school to Allied spy in France to Nazi concentration camp escapee. The second story follows Billy as he grows from a child left at a Victorian workhouse to a literate family man of modest means. Elena, raised on a farm in a futuristic Europe, becomes a famous scientist who studies the connections between psychology, genetics, and the soul. In the mid-1800s, Jeanne leaves a Catholic orphanage to become a maid and then a trusted household member of a French bourgeois family. In the final story, Anya, a hippie musician, travels the road to fame in the last decades of the twentieth century.
The five parts of A Possible Life are not linked in a conventional way. In fact, the characters and events do not appear in more than one story. Instead, Faulks connects them on an unexpected level by examining the same set of themes in each, although with different combinations of emphasis. To at least some degree, each story addresses success, mental health, spiritualism, the soul, and relationships.
For example, at least one character in each part suffers from a psychological crisis, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, or mental breakdown. In addition, the protagonist of each story is on an upward journey, either socioculturally or in terms of career, sometimes with unpredictable results.
Although Faulks calls A Possible Life a novel, to me it reads as a collection of individual short stories that focus on similar issues. Regardless of the terminology, the vivid characters and strong sense of place make this book one of the best of the year.
In the following short video Sebastian Faulks discusses his novel:
My review of the audio edition will be published by AudioFile magazine.
Buy A Possible Lie at a bookstore near you.
Published by Macmillan /Henry Holt, 2012
Source: Review (see review policy)
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