A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts

by Sebastian Faulks

(Holt, $25, 304 pages)

Who is this author?

A British author, Sebastian Faulks has published 10 novels, including “A Week in December,” which was a No. 1 bestseller in the  United Kingdom; “On Green Dolphin Street;”  “Charlotte Gray,” adapted as a film starring Cate Blanchett; and the ‘Birdsong,” adapted for TV after selling more than three million copies. In 2008, he wrote a James Bond novel, “Devil May Care,” to mark the centenary of Ian Fleming. He also wrote and hosted BBC TV series “Faulks on Fiction.”

What is this book about?

Faulks calls it a novel in five parts; others see it as a collection of five novellas. Not that it really matters: there are subtle links  between the five stories, but each can stand alone. The book may remind some readers of David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas,” which linked and re-linked disparate stories in a brilliant but confusing way, but they are likely to find Faulks’ book is more accessible. The five stories span a little more than 200 years, beginning in 19th century France and ending in the near-future in  Italy, with stops in England and the United States as well. Each story ponders how luck, good and bad, or perhaps fate, ineluctable or malleable, shapes a character. You will meet a teacher who goes undercover in a Holocaust concentration camp; an orphaned French girl who is wiser than she’s given credit for; a English lad who survives a Victorian workhouse; an American folksinger who writes a masterpiece and a female Italian scientist who stumbles into knowledge of the human psyche.

Why you’ll like it:

Critics are unanimous in praising Faulks’ prose, commending its precision of expression and mesmerizing storytelling. In the guise of one novel, he gives readers five distinct characters who each are worthy of being the focus of an entire book, and while their widely spaced lives never intertwine, Faulks’ craft and fascination with the good and bad of human nature knit these separate parts into one powerful whole.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “In this masterful book, Faulks links the stories of five disparate lives into a long meditation on the intersection of fate and free will. Five discrete novellas range from 1800s France to Italy in 2029, examining how choices, impulses, and luck (both good and bad) shape lives. … Though there are subtle connections, characters’ lives never cross; they are alive in their own worlds. Faulks resists assembling his parts into a thumping moral; his book is both bigger and less ambitious than that, a contemplation of human existence on the individual level. Highly recommended.”

“International best seller Faulks is noted for his sensitive handling of historical material, and, indeed, four of the five linked stories here tread historical ground. Among Faulks’ protagonists are a young prisoner of war in World War II Poland who imagines going to bat on a cricket field, a man in Victorian times desolate because he has given away his son, a servant in 19th-century France suddenly grasping the meaning of a Bible story, and a girl in the 1970s Catskills whose music mesmerizes. Then there’s the futurist story about a scientist in Italy drawing parallels between time and the human brain. All juicily readable stuff,” says Library Journal.

“Faulks goes further by presenting stand-alone biographies of five characters from different walks of life — even different eras — and only tenuously connecting them. It is a gamble, but one he pulls off superbly….As with the best of Faulks’ fiction, “A Possible  Life” blends profound ideas with compelling prose, and however we choose to categorize it, the result is far more than the sum of its parts,” says the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“A Possible Life” is an examination of human souls and the impact the decisions we make have on our lives and futures. Had any of these characters chosen a different road, the outcome of their lives may have been forever altered. Faulks’ novel — or collection of novellas —- succeeds because it does not overtly go out of its way to tie the five tales together,” says Bookreporter.com.

When is it available?

It is possible to find this book at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Dwight branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Comments are closed.