A POSSIBLE LIFE: A Novel in Five Parts is just that: five seemingly unrelated tales about completely different characters with each story set in a different place and time. Ranging from 1822 through 2029, they each depict characters seeking connections and making decisions that will forever alter their lives and those around them.
Geoffrey Talbot is the central character in the first story that begins in Europe during the year 1938. Geoffrey loved sports, especially cricket, and had a promising career as an athletic instructor at a prep school. Yet he always ached for something more. Being a lone wolf by nature, he blazes his own path and walks away from a cushy career to enlist in the British army at the height of World War II. He is an exemplary soldier but is taken captive as a P.O.W. and kept in a concentration camp alongside many Jewish citizens who are being put to death. The experience makes him a changed man, and it is only through the support of his lover Gisele that he is able to return to his old life and resume teaching.
"Faulks’ novel --- or collection of novellas ---- succeeds because it does not overtly go out of its way to tie the five tales together. Themes recur in the stories, but the quest for inner peace and fulfillment of the soul remain constant throughout."
Young Billy Webb is forced to leave his family in 1859 at the age of seven. He is sent to a home known as “the Bastille” with other orphaned and wayward children. Times are tough in England, and all families struggle to survive. Billy muses that he “wasn’t alive, only breathing” and longing for a way out. He is reunited with his father at age 17 and forced into hard labor. Eventually he marries his first love, Alice, and they start their life together. Tragically, Alice is stricken with a debilitating illness and eventually shut away in a hospital for “incurables.” Longing for companionship and fearing Alice lost from him forever, Billy marries her sister, Nancy. When Alice recovers, Billy is forced to care for his “first” wife and deal with the results of his hard choices.
Elena is a nine-year-old living with her family in the year 2029. She is a lonely girl who shuns her peers and lives within a world occupied by her dolls and figurines. Fearing for their daughter’s development and lack of socialization, they bring home “Bruno” from an orphanage to be her playmate and companion. Thus starts a decades-long relationship with Elena turning to science and Bruno becoming a spiritual writer. Elena spends her days searching for the existence of the soul at the Museum for Human Research, while Bruno pens a story ironically entitled “Another Life.”
Jeanne is a simpleminded French laundry-woman who worked for --- and eventually was “adopted by” --- her employers, the Lagardes. The year is 1822, and Jeanne cannot dream beyond the immediate duties in front of her. Her devotion to the Lagardes leads her to become a nursemaid for their two children. Their son, Marcel, grows up and eventually goes off to war where he has a spiritual awakening. Jeanne, considered to be ignorant by all around, turns her thoughts towards the Bible. She takes on work at a monastery run by Brother Bernard, who helps her find her true self and allows her to open up her life through the wonders of spirituality.
The final tale is set in 1971 and is narrated by a British musician/pianist named Jack, who plays for and eventually produces a talented young American singer named Anya King. They all live together with a small group of like-minded youths in a communal farm setting in upstate New York. Anya’s career then begins to take off as her deeply affecting songs are noticed by important people in the record industry. She refers to Jack as “Freddy,” and their musical partnership blossoms into a physical relationship as Jack chooses to leave his girlfriend to be with Anya. They begin work on the album that will define Anya’s career --- an album in which she states “each song is a different world.” Years go by, and the two drift apart. But the years are kind to Anya, and her musical career is highlighted by her hit album Another Life.
A POSSIBLE LIFE is an examination of human souls and the impact the decisions we make have on our lives and futures. Had any of these characters chosen a different road, the outcome of their lives may have been forever altered. Faulks’ novel --- or collection of novellas ---- succeeds because it does not overtly go out of its way to tie the five tales together. Themes recur in the stories, but the quest for inner peace and fulfillment of the soul remain constant throughout.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on December 14, 2012
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