A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks
|A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Five stories, five lives linked only emotion and humanity regaled by a bloke who really knows how to write equals one unforgettable book.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: September 2013|
|External links: Author's website|
Geoffrey swaps a career as a public school master for an existence as an English officer behind German lines during WWII, an experience that will take a lifetime to expunge. Billy is a child sent to the workhouse to give his family a chance of survival. Elena has to come to terms with an adopted brother, Jeanne the French nursemaid lives in the shadow of a one-off encounter and Jack? He bears the indelible heart print of a girl who travels with a guitar. Five lives, five stories, one human, emotional thread.
English writer Sebastian Faulks has become a household name here as much for his radio panel game appearances and TV documentary work as for his novels. I first discovered him nearly 20 years ago through Birdsong, his first beautifully crafted and poetic novel which was a blessing and a curse. It spoilt a lot of people for his subsequent works as we (yes, me included) continue to look for another Birdsong in all he writes. I therefore picked up A Possible Life with nervous anticipation.
The book is divided into five parts, each part being built around a particular person. Not only are the people unconnected, they even exist in different moments in history so on first sight they're five short stories (more on that later). The sections aren't even headlined with dates but that's part of the joy as for some of the stories we need to fossick the narrative for clues before the historical give-aways kick in. We aren't kept waiting long though as Sebastian demonstrates his mastery of evoking time and place.
Although some of the sections work better than others (I took a while to warm to Jeanne, Anya and Jack for instance) their individual voices all adhere to our memories for the right reasons. Billy's a good example: we start listening to what seems to be an autobiography but then our perspective changes as we realise it's an attempted justification. He's recounting his life so we'll understand his choices, even though we detect that he's finding it hard to live with them.
Indeed this is the link: each story includes an element of shame with effects that have to be dealt with in some form. Sometimes the shame is justifiable, sometimes it belongs to others and our character suffers the fall out and sometimes, as in Geoffrey's case, I bet most of us would have done the same.
Through these events Sebastian also explores life and human dilemmas like survival, love and the purpose of life itself; however it's the people we remember. We empathise and, even if we don't always understand why those choices were made, we're moved not to judge harshly.
Ok this is no Birdsong but not through absence of ability. Sebastian has moved on and the poetry has been replaced by a maturity in writing and outlook and greater understanding of the frailty of humanity. For those of us who had been (up till now) looking towards past glories, this may seem a trade-off but it's so well executed that it leaves us with plenty to think about rather than a sense of deprivation and that's how it should be. Birdsong is still there to enjoy and A Possible Life shows us how much Sebastian has moved on so perhaps it's time for people like me to join him on that journey. As its already a Sunday Times top-seller perhaps we already have.
If this appeals and you'd like another demonstration of Sebastian's ability to weave disparate stories together, we heartily recommend A Week in December.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks at Amazon.com.
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