A Possible Life

A Possible Life

After moving to our new house, one of the first books I read was A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks. It’s described as a novel in five parts, but whether you feel it’s really five short stories on a theme or a novel felt immaterial to me – it was a really good read.

The first story takes you from gentle pre-war village green cricket to the horrors of a prisoner of war being forced to work in the gas chambers of a Nazi death camp. The second follows a young boy in a Victorian workhouse in Dickensian London as he drags himself up to a comfortable life and has hard choices to make between two sisters.

I was less enamoured of the next two stories – the life of a servant in France during the Napoleonic wars and an Italian scientist in the future who discovers what makes us conscious. But the final one for me was the centre of the book. This is the story of the discovery of a singer song writer, her rise to fame, and the love story that unfolds between her and her manager. I particularly enjoyed reading the fascinating detail of the process by which an album is put together. In 100 pages this beautiful account unwinds at just the right pace. Part of me wanted it to become a fuller novel to spend more time with these characters, but I also recognised that it was perfectly formed at the length it was.

I’ve read almost every novel Sebastian Faulks has written since I first read Birdsong and briefly spoke to him at a book signing in Cambridge when I was a student. Ever since he’s been one of a set of my favourite authors where I automatically read their latest book.

This one was not what I was expecting, but I’m glad it was described as a novel as I might not have read a collection of short stories and I would have missed out on such poignant, touching insights into the lives we lead and how and why we lead them.