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A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Love Stories

3.4 of 5 stars 3.40  ·  rating details  ·  2,405 ratings  ·  482 reviews
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 t
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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published December 11th 2012 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published September 11th 2012)
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Jill
A Possible Life is comprised of five stories – five lives – that are tied together not through the characters or plotting, but through time, space and connections.

Had I reviewed after reading the first tale – set in 1938 and focused on Geoffrey Talbot – I may have very well given this book just 3 stars. The story of a middling man who ends up veering from the career course his father had hoped for and eventually ends up being betrayed to the Gestapo while on a mission at first seemed archetypal
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5inabus
Is there such a thing as a soul? If not, what makes us so certain than the lives we lead and the identities we inhabit are even relevant? Do you ever wonder, for example, what would have happened if you'd taken that road, instead of this one? And is it possible to know which one, of all the dozens of decisions we make every day, will be the one whose significance will echo on down for generations to come?

These are the melancholy questions that permeate Sebastian Faulks' new book, "A Possible Li
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Velma
Faulks is apparently a well-respected writer, but I certainly couldn't tell that by A Possible Life; it just made me want to look for a possible life in which I hadn't spent several days reading it.

Don't get me wrong: I think Mr. Faulks can write. I was intrigued by the premise (five people, five places, five periods in history). I was drawn to the questions he asked about souls and roads not taken. But somehow he just didn't make me care about his characters, not one whit. For example, in one o
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Cynthia
How does the brain work?

After starting this book I put my life on hold. I was hooked from the beginning. The book is a conglomeration of five people’s stories. Some stories are stronger than others but the best ones are wonderful. They’re set mostly in Europe with one taking place in New York and Los Angeles. Anya’s story is about a girl’s rise to fame in the folk/pop scene of the 1970’s. It reads like a dream yet a dream based in reality because it felt musically and emotionally deadly accurate
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Dem
A possible Life by Sebastian Fauls is a NOVEL IN FIVE PARTS.

This is actually a collection of five stories which I wish I had known before I read this Novel.(Not stated on the front cover of novel that I purchased).

I had read three of the stories before I realised that this was a collection of short/longish stories ranging from 40 pages to just under a 100 pages. The stories span continents, centuries and subject matter, some I liked and others I did not enjoy at all.

The first story while I foun
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Michael

I am a huge fan of Sebastian Faulks, so was very much looking forward to this book. Like others on this forum I was slightly concerned that it was several stories rather than an entire novel, however while the links of each story are tenuous this did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book, which overall was a very contemplative read.

All five stories are good, but for my money the vaguely sci-fi 'Everything Can Be Explained' was the most moving and 'You Next Time' the most enthralling
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Jennifer
A Possible Life is is described as a "novel in five parts." It is true that there are five distinct stories. The first, set in 1938 is about an English school teacher who goes off to war and returns changed, but is somehow able to make peace with that change and carry on with his life, however lonely it may be. The second is set in 1859 and tells the story of a boy who is sent to the workhouse by his parents. He eventually makes his way out of the workhouse and becomes successful. This was my fa ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
The subtitle, "A Novel in Five Parts," is misleading. This is not a novel by any stretch of anyone's imagination. It's a collection of five longish short stories. Every once in awhile there will be a veiled reference in one story to something in another story, but the connection is nothing bigger than a scintilla. You could say that the stories address some similar themes, but that still doesn't make it a novel.
My favorite story was "Anya," the last and longest one. It takes place in America in
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Amy
Five short stories, but not a novel. An object in one story appears in another, or there's a passing reference to the same place. More than one character feels guilty when a new love affair edges out a lover who did nothing wrong, and more than one character shuts him- or herself off from love altogether. There seems to be some theme about how we're all just recycled matter, but this isn't a book about past lives or rebirth. Really, each story and each character stands alone (so the subtitle puz ...more
Derek Baldwin
I'm about 100 pages into this and oh my giddy aunt it sucks _so_ badly. I wonder if "Sebastian Faulks" is a persona for established, reputable, writers to use when they fancy a diversion into trash fiction but would prefer to not be associated with it - like an "Alan Smithee" film....

So far this "novel in 5 parts" has featured a gung-ho public school type, nifty at cricket and all that, and after a page or two under-achieving in some fourth rate boarding school he joins the army and very soon e
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Indiabookstore
“Sometimes my whole life seems like a dream; occasionally I think that someone else has lived it for me. The events and the sensations, the stories and the things that make me what I am in the eyes of other people, the list of facts that make my life … They could be mine, they might be yours.”

Ever wondered why a certain someone walked into your life but never stayed behind? Or how in a moment of understanding you forgave the one who betrayed you into a world of misery? A Possible Life is a journ
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Meg Adams
Five transporting stories and five unforgettable live, 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 g
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LindyLouMac
My introduction to the novels of Sebastian Faulks was in 1999 when I read Charlotte Grey which still remains one of my favourites from this talented author. Sometimes I read a novel where quotes just seem to jump out of the page at me, another time it is hard to find even one for discussion at the book club I belong to. Sebastian Faulk's novels have usually been in the former category, A Possible Life was no exception and I am going to do something I do not normally do in the body of a review an ...more
Rebecca Cartwright
Review
Sebastian Faulks is an author who I find to be a bit hit and miss. Rather like Ian McEwen I always find his books to be well written but sometimes I don’t find the stories or characters to be that engaging. Unfortunately I found this book to be more hit than miss.
Before reading this book I hadn’t read anything about it and so didn’t know that it was a series of stories rather than a novel. It was only when I got to the third story that I realised that it was a book of short stories rather
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Stephen
Can you not be sure of what's going on and still like a book?

The packaging of "A Possible Life" hints at something other than a collection of short stories: "A Novel in Five Parts."

After a pleasurable once-through, highwayscribery is not exactly sure what binds these otherwise tasty tales together.

In the fifth and final piece the narrator dwells on what might represent a common thread/unifying principle to the work under scrutiny here.

"I was almost sixty years old, but I didn't understand anythi
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Hannah Green
This book posed numerous problems for me, particularly having spent many weeks prior to its release reading through his other novels.

I felt, on the whole, that this was a book far too close to its predecessor Human Traces. They both approach similar themes, existentialism and the nature of humanity, but I felt A Possible Life did this with far less subtlety. Instead of the extended prose which made the reader pose questions to themselves, here Faulks wrote them for you, with the text serving the
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Ellie
A Possible Life is described by its author and its publishers as 'a novel in five parts'.

And they are welcome to describe it as that if it pleases them. But in reality, it's 5 short stories that have been tweaked to give them some hint of a connection.

The 'theme' of the book, in so far as there is one, is that the life we live is just one of many possible lives, that a combination of luck and conscious decision leads us on a path that is but one of many; but that ultimately, to quote from the f
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Hilary Green
A POSSIBLE LIFE
by Sebastian Faulks

I have to admit I found this book puzzling. I almost gave up after the first few pages but I'm glad I persisted, if only in an attempt to discover what Faulks is getting at. The book begins with the story of a young man who is recruited into SOE as a secret agent, is betrayed and finds himself in a Nazi extermination camp – events which Faulks himself covered so dramatically in 'Charlotte Grey'. But here they are narrated in the flat, unemotional style of a poli
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Mac
How to rate this book?

Part One, Geoffrey 1938, was disappointing; it felt rushed, a chronology without life or distinction, and the field of the Holocaust has been plowed many times before. In contrast, Part Five, Anya 1971, was compelling, emotionally touching, and intellectually stimulating. Part Five's success was somewhat due to this part's resonance with the ideas in the preceding parts, but mostly it was due to a fascinating central character, Anya, and an insightful heart broken narrator
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Mark

This may be fancied a novel in five parts, but it's really five short stories or novellas stitched together without much obvious connection among them.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this trip through the lives of a young man who almost stumbles into intelligence work in WWII, with dire consequences; an orphanage house boy in the mid-1800s who grows up to make a life for himself, but must make a hard choice in love; a young woman in the near future who helps discover the key to consciousness, but loses
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Jackie
The subtitle, "A Novel In Five Parts", is both misleading and spot on. Misleading because there are five different narratives that make up the book, not obviously related to each other. The times are different, the situations are different, the outcomes are different. It's only after you read them all that you see what the connections are. It has to do with possibilities, and choices, what we dream and what we become, our intentions and our actions. There are a lot of levels to this book, and I ...more
Susan
I loved his earlier novels and he is still a good writer. But this was NOT a novel in five parts. It was five separate stories, some of which were better than others. (The contemporary ones were weaker and the French housekeeper one) The attempts to stir echoes with details overlapping in the stories didn't work as far as I am concerned.
Robert Ronsson
What do you do if you're an established novelist and your recent output consists of a few false starts that are no more than longish short stories? Then you're put under pressure because your publisher is clamouring for a new novel. This is what it looks like here.
You give the false-starts quasi-endings, cobble them together and call the whole thing 'A Novel in Five Parts'. It would have been more honest to call it Five Possible Lives.
Unlike many of the reviewers before me, I couldn't find the c
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Theresa Southam
At first this book was like Sociology 101 reading Bettelheim and feeling sick to my stomach about humanity, myself as a part of a species that murders, rapes, and tortures. I was ready to put down the book. And the quirky endings to each and every story were not expected under such a title. However it was the unexpected that hooked me and I just kept going, loving Faulks' stories more and more as I went on. I guess I was like Geoffrey's characterization of a child, I wanted to believe that my pe ...more
David Carr
This book is now overdue, the dimes are accumulating, but I kept it a bit long in order to read Sebastian Faulks again. He is the author of Birdsong, one of the best I have read, so I have expected the disappointment inherent in something other than that memorable book. Disappointed, yes; but this is still fine reading and close to my own sense of what a human life is, a consciousness that grows more complex as I think and age. The novel has five large parts, each devoted to an entire life, five ...more
Kiwiflora
Well, I must be a bit thick or something but I really did not get the purpose of this 'novel'. I have always thought of a 'novel' as a long story with a plot and characters that are linked in some sort of organised and sequential manner. This book meets the 'long' and 'characters' requirements, but other than four very small and tenuous links the five parts have nothing to do with each other. I kept waiting and waiting for the connections to show themselves, got to the very last page and still n ...more
Martin Belcher
I enjoyed this book but it turned out to be something very different than I was at first expecting. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed "Birdsong" and "Charlotte Gray" I was expecting great things from Faulks.
"A Possible Life" is a novel of five very different stories all united on the theme of life and a feeling of self and how your life is moulded and matures by the people and places and experiences that you meet and sometimes endure as you go along the pathway.

The stories are very eclectic an
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Lucy

Despite being rather disappointed with the last book I read from Sebastian Faulks I would still happily describe myself as a fan. Birdsong is one of my favourite books, although Engleby shows a greater writing skill. So when I was contacted about reviewing A Possible Life I was very eager. A small part of me worried that it would be in a similar vein to A Week in December, but you can’t expect to love every book by an author so I tried to approach A Possible Life without any reference to Faulks’
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Ruth
We are told on the title page that this is a novel in 5 parts and therefore expect, as we read, to be able to see some unifying principle at work in the disparate sections. This introduces a cryptic element as, put on the alert, the reader seeks out information which might make the novel more than the sum of its parts. It would spoil to add detail to this here, but it is enough to say that it adds to the reading experience. However, it does not succeed in making the novel profound. Words I would ...more
Al
A collection of five stories about individuals (two men and three women) living in different times (18th to 21st centuries). I think the idea is that we should see that the human condition transcends time, class and gender. If there are common elements in these stories, one of them might be that no matter how much one tries to pursue rational goals in life (and one's definition of what's rational varies with class and education), at the end of the day (read: end of life), one may be left with t ...more
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Sebastian Faulks was born in 1953, and grew up in Newbury, the son of a judge and a repertory actress. He attended Wellington College and studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, although he didn’t enjoy attending either institution. Cambridge in the 70s was still quite male-dominated, and he says that you had to cycle about 5 miles to meet a girl. He was the first literary editor of “The Independe ...more
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“Sometimes my whole life seems like a dream; occasionally I think that someone else has lived it for me. The events and the sensations, the stories and the things that make me what I am in the eyes of other people, the list of facts that make my life ... They could be mine, they might be yours.” 11 likes
“If not just the brain but the quirks that made the individual were composed of recycled matter only, it was hard to be sure where the edges of one such being ended and another person began.” 6 likes
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