A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks
This book is described as a novel, but in fact it’s more like five parables tenuously connected by the vicissitudes of life.
In the first section, a young teacher enlists in World War II – as an intelligence officer he is captured and sent to work in the death camps. He escapes the horrors by imagining that he is on a midsummer English cricket ground. In nineteenth-century England, a young boy is sent to the poorhouse by his parents because they can’t afford to keep him; he determines that that won’t happen to his children.
In the near future, a father brings a young boy home to his wife and daughter; the boy and the girl form a bond that endures over time and separation. In a nineteenth-century French village, an old servant understands the meaning of the Bible story her master is reading to her. An English rock musician, living in the Catskills, discovers a young and incredibly talented singer. Together, they grapple with her talent, her career and her fears but it is a relationship that can’t last.
These five sections are exceptionally moving and beautifully and simply written. For me the central theme was that of acceptance and struggle, with the protagonists cutting through what life has thrown at them – something that’s probably true for most of us. Faulks’s A Possible Life is a wonderful work, intensely pleasurable and at times, dare I say it, profound. It is a worthy successor to his great World War I novel, Birdsong.
Mark Rubbo is the Managing Director of Readings.