10 December 2012

Review: A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks

In an interview, in a short video (embedded here), and in the subtitle, Sebastian Faulks calls his latest book a novel. A Possible Life, however, is made up of five parts, each of which is set in a different time and place. Moreover, the parts are not arranged chronologically.

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
Rating: A
ISBN-13: 9780805097306

Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

10 comments:

Veens 12/10/12, 8:05 AM  

I would love to read this one. Adding this to my TBR.

JoAnn 12/10/12, 9:00 AM  

This sounds interesting - I'm kind of sorry I didn't jump on the offer of a review copy.

Daryl 12/10/12, 10:16 AM  

sounds interesting .. thanks!

Beth Hoffman 12/10/12, 10:44 AM  

I am TOTALLY hooked! Thank you for your review and also for sharing the video (I could have listened to him speak for hours). Can't wait to get my hands on this one.

Zibilee 12/10/12, 11:03 AM  

I like the sound of this, and the fact that the stories are interconnected by theme really intrigues me. I would love to read this one at some point, and I am not sure that I have read anything by this author before. It sounds like it will be a really powerful book. Thanks for helping me discover something new and possibly exciting to me. You read the neatest books!

nomadreader 12/10/12, 12:46 PM  

I'm somewhat leery of novels in parts after not connecting with Communion Town or Accordion Crimes this summer, but I loved A Possible Life. I'm particularly surprised by how much its themes still resonate with me.

bermudaonion 12/10/12, 2:50 PM  

It's interesting that he considers it a novel. I do like short stories and this sounds like a collection that would make me think.

Alison Skap 12/10/12, 2:59 PM  

Oooh, this one sounds fantastic! Adding to my TBR list, thank you!

Julie P. 12/10/12, 4:25 PM  

I actually like this format a lot. Sounds great!

Jenners 12/11/12, 9:24 PM  

I like when things are connected but not in a totally obvious way.

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