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A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Love Stories

3.45  ·  Rating Details ·  3,540 Ratings  ·  592 Reviews
Terrified, a young prisoner in the Second World War closes his eyes and pictures himself going out to bat on a sunlit cricket ground in Hampshire, England.

Across the courtyard in a Victorian workhouse, a father is too ashamed to acknowledge his son.

A skinny girl steps out of a Chevy with a guitar; her voice sends shivers through the skull.

Soldiers and lovers, parents and c
Paperback, 304 pages
Published November 26th 2013 by Picador (first published September 11th 2012)
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Oct 28, 2012 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Oct 27, 2012 Cynthia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 19, 2012 Dem rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 26, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
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
Jan 07, 2013 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
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
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
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
Sep 21, 2013 Ellie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 01, 2013 LindyLouMac rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 14, 2013 Indiabookstore rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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
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
Hilary Green
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
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
Rebecca Cartwright-Teakle
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
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
Dec 19, 2012 Susan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 16, 2012 Mac rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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

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
Coming soon! I will post some of the review here and the complete review on The Travelling Reader. See
Ron Charles
Nov 23, 2012 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m not sure why Sebastian Faulks calls his new book “a novel” — I might as well call this review “a poem” — but labeling is the only thing he gets wrong here. The five disparate stories in “A Possible Life” jump around from 1822 to 2029, exploring worlds as unrelated as a German concentration camp and an L.A. music studio. Although there are subtle connections and thematic echoes among them, what’s most remarkable is how distinctively moving each of these pieces is.

Such versatility doesn’t come
Mike Cuthbert
Oct 26, 2016 Mike Cuthbert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a strange “novel” that consists of five short stories, not all of them love stories in the strictest sense. The first, “Geoffrey,” is set in England during WW II and involves the title character with other more acquaintances than friends. Geoffrey joins the Underground in France and there meets Giselle and forms a love alliance with her though she is not really a participant. In fact, her love alters Geoffrey’s life in unexpected ways when he and some comrades in the Underground hear unf ...more
Joshua Brist
First of all, I did not finish this book. I made it halfway through the third story. However, that is where I definitely had had enough.

The first story was almost a complete waste of my time apart from some decently enjoyable espionage and resistance tropes. Apart from those few moments I enjoyed, I really could have done without the rest of it. There are already so many WWII Nazi prison camp stories out there. What does this story add to the world? I do like how the main character has to deal
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
Jan 04, 2013 Lucy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2013

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’
Sam Sattler
Jan 30, 2013 Sam Sattler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-novel
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
So much of this book, and the imagined lives it relates, reads like life under a microscope. This is partly due to the Faulk's use of Third-Person Omniscient, but also due to Faulks's determination to present the life lived with no qualification or explanation other than that offered by the experiences of the characters. It almost mimics the voyeuristic tendencies of modern audiences watching private lives on reality TV. In fact so much of this novel is of its time, despite references to other t ...more
Theresa Southam
Feb 09, 2014 Theresa Southam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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.” 18 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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