Summary and book reviews of A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks

A Possible Life

A Novel in Five Parts

by Sebastian Faulks

A Possible Life
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Dec 2012, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2013, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

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About this Book

Book Summary

From the critically acclaimed, bestselling author of Birdsong, new fiction about love and war—five transporting stories and five unforgettable lives, linked across centuries.

In Second World War Poland, a young prisoner closes his eyes and pictures going to bat on a sunlit English cricket ground.

Across the yard of a Victorian poorhouse, a man is too ashamed to acknowledge the son he gave away.

In a 19th-century French village, an old servant understands - suddenly and with awe - the meaning of the Bible story her master is reading to her.

On a summer evening in the Catskills in 1971, a skinny girl steps out of a Chevy with a guitar and with a song that will send shivers through her listeners' skulls.

A few years from now, in Italy, a gifted scientist discovers links between time and the human brain and between her lover's novel and his life.

Throughout the five masterpieces of fiction that make up A Possible Life, exquisitely drawn and unforgettable characters risk their bodies, hearts and minds in pursuit of the manna of human connection. Between soldier and lover, parent and child, servant and master, and artist and muse, important pleasures and pains are born of love, separations and missed opportunities. These interactions - whether successful or not - also affect the long trajectories of characters' lives.

Provocative and profound, Sebastian Faulks's dazzling new novel journeys across continents and centuries not only to entertain with superb old-fashioned storytelling but to show that occasions of understanding between humans are the one thing that defines us - and that those moments, however fluid, are the one thing that endures.

Part Five
Anya
1971

It was a hot evening in July, and I was sitting on the porch in a chair made from an old car seat. I had a six-string acoustic on my lap and was running my fingers up and down the fret board, gazing into the distance. There was a can of beer open on the deck. We didn't count alcohol as a drug and American lager almost wasn't beer. Lowri was inside the farmhouse, and through the closed insect door I could hear her singing. Janis and Grace, the dogs, were rooting around in the yard.

Times like this, I often used to just sit there and stare out towards the woods. And I liked the idea that Lowri would soon be cooking, and that Becky and Suzanne, the stray hitchhikers, would be there too when it got dark.

There was the sound of a car coming up from the village. You could pick it out by the tower of dust as it snaked along the road, vanishing outside the clapboard post office with its tattered flag on a pole, coming into view again on the low-hedged straight beside...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How was Geoffrey changed after he returned home from the war? What accounted for this change? How was he changed in the very end of his story? What is meant by his feeling that a "rearrangement of particles had taken place within him?" Are we able to change the basic structure of who we are?

  2. Billy is able to change his circumstances and achieve success through sheer work and determination, yet life has a way of confounding some of his plans. He says, "the more I live, the less I seem to understand." How does his worldview evolve throughout his life? Is life something that can be fully grasped or understood at any single point in our lives?

  3. What do you think determines how and why we become the people that we do? Do you ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Have you ever thought about how remarkably different people’s lives are - that an intricate arrangement of choices, chance meetings, unforeseen circumstances, and relationships can combine to create a unique life path? Or, on the other hand, have you ever marveled over the universal sameness of the human experience? In A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts, Sebastian Faulks explores these seemingly contradictory yet complimentary ideas through five main characters, living in five different places, during five different time periods.   (Reviewed by Elena Spagnolie).

Full Review Members Only (870 words).

Media Reviews

USA Today

A Possible Life is a rueful, pleasurable work, extremely sharp, with true insights into aging and loss.

Los Angeles Times

The chief pleasure in reading A Possible Life comes from feeling you can wander off with any of its characters and find a story every bit as real and compelling as what's on the page.

Dallas Morning News

Read this brilliant, deeply affecting book and enjoy a master storyteller at work... Faulks works a kind of magic on the page... A Possible Life is filled with such bittersweet wisdom as Faulks’ men and women confront the mysteries of self and others. If these unforgettable characters are in fact connected, it is only in the way we are all connected, forced by time and chance to suffer and change, bound by the heart’s baffling needs.

The Washington Post

Distinctively moving. . . These stories sneak up on you, gently ingratiate themselves, get you settled in comfortably and then batter your heart. . . It’s startling and strange, the sort of unsettling insight one gets from the finest of Flannery O’Connor’s work....its final pages offer a profound reflection on the mysterious parts we play in one another’s lives.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

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.

Kirkus Reviews

Delicately crafted stories.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review.Each world is drawn with precision, creating widely varied stories that are intensely absorbing . . .a contemplation of human existence on the individual level. Highly recommended.

Library Journal

[Faulks's] literary artistry is on gorgeous display as he brings to life five wildly disparate protagonists in stories linked by the strength of their characters, all challenged by the horrors of war, of abandonment, of the struggle between trust and faith, and of romance gone shockingly wrong.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Each world feels complete, vivid and convincing. ... In the end it does what any good novel should—it unsettles, it moves, and it forces us to question who we are.

The Telegraph (UK)

A tightly written, moving and exciting work of fiction that should thrill established readers as well as win new fans. If you think you know Faulks – or even (and especially) if you haven't enjoyed his previous novels – it's time to look again.

The Independent (UK)

Bravura prose ... Critics often underestimate Faulks's versatility: his protean restlessness, half-disguised by mainstream bestsellerdom.

The Evening Standard (UK)

So there's quite a thesis here, quite a mystical proposition. ... [These stories] are united by all asking 'whether individuals are ever really satisfactorily distinguished from one another or whether in fact we are all taking part in the same cosmic story, the same joined-up life.' ... [They are] delicate, persuasive expressions.

Author Blurb Anthony Lane, author of Nobody's Perfect: Writings from The New Yorker
Sebastian Faulks's fine new novel does not, at first glance, look like a novel at all - more like a gathering of stories, each one yielding a new character. Only gradually do we realize how these many voices, so far apart in time and place, fuse together and overlap, like songs on an album, to form a stirring and delicate whole.

Author Blurb Sheila Weller, author of New York Times bestseller Girls Like Us
This magnificent, complex, fine-grained book of stories is about love and loss in all its colors, in all its eras.

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Beyond the Book

Sebastian Faulks's French Connection

Sebastian FaulksIt's no surprise that Sebastian Faulks might consider himself a Francophile. After all, a good number of his 14 books are set (or at least partially set) in France, including his three most famous novels, known as the "French trilogy": The Girl at the Lion d'Or; Birdsong; and Charlotte Gray, which in 2001, was made into a movie starring Cate Blanchette.

In 1961, when Faulks was eight, he first visited France with his family. He recalls in an interview, "…we stayed in Deauville, which was an old-fashioned resort in Normandy, in a boarding house... Very nice food, rather formal and there was something, I suppose, about France, even then, that did seem to me attractive or different in some way."

As a young man, in the year before ...

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