Author: Sebastian Faulks
Similar to Astray by Emma Donoghue, but very different, I believe Faulks presents a better novel. Faulks divines his writing rod into five different lives, five different time periods. Each chapter defines exquisitely drawn characters. Instead of Astray’s vignettes, we are given characters with three dimensional lives that do not confine to a glance, but offer a comprehensive view that enthralls the reader.
Geoffrey 1938, Billy 1859, Elena 2029, Jeanne, 1822 and Anya 1971. Faulks’ theme – his characters’ theme – are the fragile moments when people collide with a desperation or intuition of connection.
“Geoffrey Talbot was supposed to be a linguist…but he loves sports.” Geoffrey veers off track forever when he enlists as a soldier in World War II, and a compatriot – a woman he loves – betrays him to the enemy. He ends up in the gas camps, survives, and becomes a teacher at a boys’ school. He ponders why he was betrayed, the woman who betrayed him. And he reaches a point where he can let his past go, and connect to his life in the present.
Billy is given away by his parents to an orphanage. The family has five children, and they must give one up to feed the others. Billy is sent to the horrendous Union House, a workhouse for unwanted children and adults unable to feed themselves. He sees his father one day in the workhouse himself, but they do not speak. Billy manages to make one friend, Alice, and they connect. Billy and Alice marry and escape the horrors that have welded their childhood. When Alice ends up in a psychiatric hospital, Billy and her sister, Nancy who lives with them form an alliance and have a child, Dick, together. They live happily as a couple until they discover years later that Alice is being released. Dick is young, and they send him away when Alice comes back and pretend for a while that all is well. Finally, Billy brings Dick home, tells Alice the truth that he loves Nancy and has another life, and Alice accepts their alliance. They arrange a life somehow as a family.
Elena lives in the future. She becomes a scientist and makes a discovery with another woman. They discover the true soul of humans is simply a result of a synapse in the brain. For some reason, no matter how many times Elena tries to credit the other woman, Elena is the one who gets credit for the biggest discovery science has ever made.
As a child, Elena is solitary and has no friends until one day her father brings home a boy her age named Bruno, a foreign orphan. At first Elena ignores the boy until one day the children make a connection and realize they are alike. They become as one person. And they become lovers one day. Bruno leaves suddenly, and Elena cannot comprehend the loss of her best friend. For Bruno knows a horrible truth and has to protect Elena. Later, at 49, Elena requests a meeting with Bruno and realizes the truth. She accepts that her life has been as it must, and she and Bruno come to terms with the reality of it.
Jeanne, simpleminded, lives in 1800’s France. She works as a laundress and nursemaid, and show a moral fortitude that allows her to remain herself no matter how badly she is treated or her circumstances.
Anya, a 60’s songwriter with an unbelievable voice, ignores the love in her life to create beauty on her own terms. Later in her life, she gives a final performance as an aging star and meets her former lover off stage. She realizes that her life could have been anyone’s as she sings her last song to the man she left who sits in the audience. And that is enough for her.
Each story compels because almost anyone in the circumstances presented to each character would have crumbled, left in the dust of what life gave them. And yet, Faulks’s characters are complete, rich and evocative. Faulks combines human frailty with the lives we have been given, and his characters are a litany, a swell of acceptance of themselves and their lives. Reverently, we are given the gift of Faulks’s reticence to write off the human condition of either his characters or the courage of his flawed but beautiful characters. It is a difficult, almost impossible job to do through writing. The profound dignity that illuminates from each page transforms to art.
Faulks resonates and pulsates along with his characters. Beautifully written, impressively presented. A symphony of five stories that culminate in perfection.
A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts is available for purchase.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.