Monday, December 10, 2012

book review: A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks

The basics: A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts tells the life story of five characters: Geoffrey, a World War I soldier; Billy, a poor boy in Victorian London; Elena, a scientist in futuristic Europe; Jeanne, an orphan in rural France in the 1800s; and Anya, an American folk singer in the 1970s.

My thoughts: A Possible Life is a fascinating, gripping read. Each of the five parts could work on its own, although some are better than others. Taken together, however, they do become a novel of sorts as Faulks poses giant questions about life and humanity.

The novel begins with Geoffrey's story. I was amazed at the depth of detail Faulks infused into his 79 pages. The reader sees Geoffrey's life, and it was an amazing one. His life, and the lives of the other characters are all amazing. They share a particular kind of amazing, however. Faulks is concerned with those moments small and large that change our course in life. Each story contains numerous points where I wondered "what if?"

As mesmerizing as these characters are, particularly Geoffrey, Billy and Elena, I was enchanted by Faulks' writing: "All the time I worked and read, I didn't expect it would lead to anything. I read because I was interested. I learned to live in my imagination." He achieved the voice of these characters across time and the world while still maintaining a distinctive narrative voice that helps bring the five stories together.

As I read this book, I found myself having to read it in pieces. I wanted time between the stories to ponder. Although Geoffrey's story is perhaps my favorite, my appreciation for the novel as a whole kept growing as I read the first three tales. I found Elena's future-set story particularly intriguing. Faulks managed to tell historical and futuristic stories in a cohesive way. The story of Jeanne fell a little flat for me. The initial set-up was fascinating, and it had thematic ties to the previous ones, but it didn't engage me as deeply. Sadly, the last story of Anya failed to interest me. It was a disappointing ending to an otherwise strong novel. Initially, it dampened my enthusiasm for the novel, but I've come back to being so impressed with the other parts of the book to forgive Faulks for the Anya piece and praise the book as a whole.

Favorite passage: "She wonders if when she awakes, she will feel as mystified as she feels now; or whether the hard edges of fact, of history, of her own past--of every cell that makes her what she is--are in truth as flexible as time itself."

The verdict: A Possible Life is a novel concerned with the number of possibilities of life. It addresses the small and large moments that make us who we are. Faulks explores circumstances large and small in these five people at different times and places in history. It's a novel that will make you ponder the pivotal moments of your own life. A Possible Life isn't a perfect novel, but it does have moments of perfection. Its flaws, however, appear in the last two stories that didn't measure up to the brilliance of the first three.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 304
Publication date: December 11, 2012
Source: publisher via Elle magazine

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy A Possible Life from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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  1. Oooh I was wondering how this one was! Glad to hear it's good.. I'll have to keep it in mind.

    1. I really liked it and now am eager to read more Faulks!

  2. I just read another rave review of this one, and now I am convinced that I must have it. I love books the draw you in and hypnotize with a mixture of stories that somehow connect, so this sounds perfect for me. Great review today. Seriously wonderful!

  3. I'm hosting a read-along of Faulks' novel Birdsong next April and so I'm curious about his other books too!

    1. Melissa, this title was my first Faulks, but I'm eager to read his backlist now, particularly Birdsong.

  4. I tried to read one other book by this author and it never pulled me in. I saw this one and the novel in parts description caught my eye. So glad it worked for you! 4 out of 5 stars is pretty darn good.

    1. Ti, it was my first Faulks, and I really loved it (except for that last part.) I'm eager to read more of him, particularly Birdsong.


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