A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks (Vintage)

by Patrick O’Connor


FIRST things first. This work, by one of Britain’s leading writers Sebastian Faulks, is described on the book cover as a novel.

It isn’t, it comprises five novellas – longer than a short story but shorter than a novel – and there is no obvious link between the five.

The plots include France during the Second World War, a Victorian workhouse, a futuristic Italy, 19th century France and California during the hippy era.

Each one demonstrates Faulks’ ability to hook the reader in with consummate ease and the astounding depth of his research.

You are taken to the heart of each individual world via characters whose personalities are vividly explored.

For me, the first and last stories are the strongest although all five have their attractions. A Possible Life kicks off with Geoffrey, who graduates from Oxford on the eve of the Second World War, but quickly joins up. He is dropped into France where he is promptly arrested and ends up in a concentration camp in Poland. Faulks expertly explores the horrors that greet him.

The book concludes with the reminiscences of musician Freddy and his love affair with acclaimed singer-songwriter Anya.

It is a touching, sometimes poignant tale as Freddy’s role as mentor is brushed aside as Anya’s career takes off.

The author captures the heady, hip days of the Los Angeles music scene with a flourish which leads you desperate for more.

But that can be said for all five stories, you are left with the feeling that all them could be expanded to full-length novels, the material is so strong. Maybe Faulks will oblige sometime in the future.