Despite being clearly labeled on its cover as a “novel in five parts,” A Possible Life could just as easily have been called a short story collection or a group of short novellas. Most readers, I suspect, will consider the book to be a collection of interrelated short stories.
Each of the book’s five stories, or parts, is titled with the name and time period of its central character, and they are presented in this order: Geoffrey, 1938; Billy, 1859; Elena, 2029; Jeanne, 1822; and Anya, 1971. The first two stories are set in England, the others in Italy, France, and the United States. In each of his tales, Faulks takes his central character from relative youth to old age, describing a lifetime during which seemingly innocuous decisions made by them and others will determine which of their “possible lives” will become reality.
Geoffrey Talbot, bored with his life after university, decides to enlist in the British Army, allowing him to cross paths with the French woman who will haunt the rest of his days. Given up by his family because they could not afford to feed all their children, Billy Webb spends his youth in an orphanage/poorhouse where he meets the two little girls with whom he will grow old. Decades after Elena’s father returns from a business trip with an orphan boy he wants to adopt, she finally learns the truth about the love of her life. Jeanne, said to be “the most ignorant person” in her rural French village, makes a difficult choice that will ultimately define who she is. And, finally, Anya, an extremely talented singer-songwriter must make painful decisions if she is to survive the 1970s American music scene.
Faulks presents his premise that all human beings are connected, tenuous as those links might be, by referencing the tiniest of details. Sometimes a physical object moves from one story to another, at other times the descendent of an earlier character appears in a later story, or a reference to the future made in one story comes true in a second. The psychological impact of the connections is often increased by the very subtleness of the references.
Novel, or not, A Possible Life is definitely memorable. Sebastian Faulks fans should be pleased with it, and readers new to the author’s work will likely want to read his earlier work after reading this one. They might even begin to wonder about their own possible lives – and which one they might end up with.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)