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A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Love Stories Hardcover – December 11, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (December 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805097309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805097306
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A rueful, pleasurable work, extremely sharp, with true insights into aging and loss. . . Faulks’s writing is often both beautiful and perceptive." – USAToday.com

"Read this brilliant, deeply affecting book and enjoy a master storyteller at work... Faulks works a kind of magic on the page... A Possible Life is filled with such bittersweet wisdom as Faulks’ men and women confront the mysteries of self and others. If these unforgettable characters are in fact connected, it is only in the way we are all connected, forced by time and chance to suffer and change, bound by the heart’s baffling needs." -- Dallas Morning News

"Faulks goes further by presenting stand-alone biographies of five characters from different walks of life -- even different eras -- and only tenuously connecting them. It is a gamble, but one he pulls off superbly....As with the best of Faulks' fiction, "A Possible Life" blends profound ideas with compelling prose, and however we choose to categorize it, the result is far more than the sum of its parts."-- Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"The five tales are nothing short of mesmerizing. A Possible Life is both subtle and profound."-- Metro Pulse

"Distinctively moving. . . These stories sneak up on you, gently ingratiate themselves, get you settled in comfortably and then batter your heart. . . It’s startling and strange, the sort of unsettling insight one gets from the finest of Flannery O’Connor’s work....its final pages offer a profound reflection on the mysterious parts we play in one another’s lives." –The Washington Post

"The chief pleasure in reading ‘A Possible Life’ comes from feeling you can wander off with any of its characters and find a story every bit as real and compelling as what's on the page." -- Los Angeles Times

"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."—Bookreporter.com

"Each of the stories could stand on its own, and together, they show off Faulks’ versatility. Each of his characters has his or her own way of experiencing the world, and Faulks makes those different worlds realistically detailed and believable." – Columbus Dispatch

"A Possible Life is a rueful, pleasurable work, extremely sharp, with true insights into aging and loss."—USA Today

"Beautifully written. . . One could quibble over whether this is really a novel or a collection of stories, but that may be missing the point. For those of us who remember listening to music on albums, A Possible Life is most reminiscent of an LP—a gathering of distinct expressions that together make up a satisfying whole." – BookPage

"These five stories are provocative meditations on love, loss, evil and what it means to be human, beautifully rendered by a prose master."-- Shelf Awareness Pro

"In this masterful book, Faulks links the stories of five disparate lives into a long meditation on the intersection of fate and free will. Five discrete novellas range from 1800s France to Italy in 2029, examining how choices, impulses, and luck (both good and bad) shape lives. . . .What Faulks (Birdsong) risks sound twee and clever, and not unlike what David Mitchell did in Cloud Atlas, but this book transcends pat tropes through the beauty and clarity of Faulks’s prose. Each world is drawn with precision, creating widely varied stories that are intensely absorbing . . .a contemplation of human existence on the individual level. Highly recommended." – Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Review)

"Delicately crafted." -- Kirkus

“A tightly written, moving and exciting work of fiction that should thrill established readers as well as win new fans. If you think you know Faulks – or even (and especially) if you haven’t enjoyed his previous novels – it’s time to look again.”
--Anthony Cummins, The Telegraph, UK
"Sebastian Faulks's fine new novel does not, at first glance, look like a novel at all - more like a gathering of stories, each one yielding a new character. Only gradually do we realize how these many voices, so far apart in time and place, fuse together and overlap, like songs on an album, to form a stirring and delicate whole. One of them speaks of merging 'the flame and the facts', our ardent yearnings with the hard detail of ordinary life. In Faulks's masterful hands, fact and flame become one."
--Anthony Lane, author of Nobody’s Perfect: Writings from The New Yorker
“This magnificent, complex, fine-grained book of stories is about love and loss in all its colors, in all its eras. I am best qualified to judge the final story Anya, which is one of the most authentic portrayals of a time and place -- the early '70s in the folk-rock milieu, from a rural upstate New York, to Greenwich Village, to L.A. -- I have ever read.
We all have magical people in our pasts -- glittery, fleeting, transformative: embarrassed secrets because our thrall to them was never quite reciprocated. This book liberates us from that embarrassment and reminds us that unrequited large-R-romance is a lot of what makes life worth living, and that such elegiac, flickering interludes can often be as emotionally permanent as those with the more steadfast people in our lives.”
– Sheila Weller, author of New York Times bestseller Girls Like Us

“Bravura prose . . . .Critics often underestimate Faulks’s versatility: his protean restlessness, half-disguised by mainstream bestsellerdom.”
--Boyd Tonkin, The Independent (UK)
“So there’s quite a thesis here, quite a mystical proposition. . . . [These stories] are united by all asking ‘whether individuals are ever really satisfactorily distinguished from one another or whether in fact we are all taking part in the same cosmic story, the same joined-up life.’ . . . [They are] delicate, persuasive expressions.” 
--David Sexton, The London Evening Standard (UK)
  “Each world feels complete, vivid and convincing. . . . .In the end it does what any good novel should—it unsettles, it moves, and it forces us to question who we are.”
--Lucy Atkins,  The Sunday Times (UK)

About the Author

Sebastian Faulks is the author of  ten novels. They include the UK number one bestseller A Week in December; Human Traces; On Green Dolphin Street; Charlotte Gray, which was made into a film starring Cate Blanchett; and the classic Birdsong, which has sold more than three million copies and was recently adapted for television. In 2008, he was invited to write a James Bond novel, Devil May Care, to mark the centenary of Ian Fleming. In between books he wrote and presented the four-part television series Faulks on Fiction for the BBC. He lives in London with his wife and their three children.

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Customer Reviews

All of these characters are intimately familiar to us.
Jill I. Shtulman
You just want to say: "isn't it amazing how it happens sometimes..." I am a new Faulks convert and am looking forward to reading his other books.
I really had a difficult time trying to link the 5 stories into a "novel," but that certainly didn't affect me enjoying this book.
R S Cobblestone

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By K. L. Cotugno VINE VOICE on November 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It is unclear at first why this book of 5 disparate stories, set in different times on different continents with varying main characters, has been described as a novel. 'There does not appear to be any communal connection, as in, say Cloud Atlas. Only at the end will all the parts dovetail in surprising ways. The main characters do share certain qualities -- isolation, societal outsiders, content in their solitude. They are not psychopathically xenophobic, and will react to others. But they all seem to carry with themselves a self-sufficiency in which they live their lives. They have the sense they've experienced "this" before, encountered other characters before (Where or When?).

Throughout Faulks writes gorgeous prose, creating evocative images of familiar landscapes that seem even more vibrant in his hands. The scenes in the Nazi work camp, for instance, are more brutal than previously encountered; the orphanages more realistically produced. The reader can almost smell the outer landscape and feel its heat. He is an amazing writer with an original style. Even the placement of the stories, the order in which they are arranged, is intriguing. They are not chronological, but there is a certain logic. As with Kieslowski's Blue, White and Red movies, or even with his Decalogue, there is a sense in the connections of these stories that can only be fully recognized after completion.
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47 of 54 people found the following review helpful By CPHowe on September 24, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Described by the publisher as a novel, this latest offering by the highly-regarded Sebastian Faulks - the Financial Times says, `Faulks is beyond doubt a master,' - is in fact a collection of five stories. Each story has its own title, but they are also labelled Parts I to V, signalling that they are supposed to form a coherent whole; that they are in some way linked.

A Possible Life reminded me a little of Edward P Jones' two volumes of linked short stories, All Aunt Hagar's Children and Lost In The City. The links between Jones' stories are subtle and curious; a name might re-appear in a different context, or a location will feature again, but at a different time or with different people. The connections between the five stories in A Possible Life are even less obvious, and reflect Faulks' fascination with what makes us human. Science, consciousness, artistic creativity, families, love and the Holocaust all feature. Only once the book is finished is it possible to reflect on the stories as a collection, and try and make sense of them.

Each story traverses the whole of its subject's life, set in different times and places from 18th century France to mid-21st century Italy. The middle three stories struggled to live up to the emotional and heart-breaking narrative of the first - the stoicism and suffering of a man subject to the horrors of the Second World War - or the re-imagining of the love affair between Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash on which the fifth and final story is loosely based. The first story sets such a high standard, although it certainly has flaws, that the rest were always going to be hard-pressed to follow it. Its strength perhaps explains why I felt such disappointment at turning the page and realising that `Part II' was a completely different story.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Gaby at Starting Fresh blog VINE VOICE on November 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts Sebastian Faulks gives us five separate stories each with a distinct flavor and each a complete whole. The stories are set in different places in Europe and different times with different characters. I'll admit that I may have been a bit distracted while reading stories 2-5 as I kept trying to find connections between the characters and stories. While each story stands on its own, I kept trying to imagine where and how the stories would connect. Unfortunately, I this attempt to pinpoint the connections detracted from enjoying the novel as a whole.

Of the five stories, the first two were my particular favorites. The first tells the story of Geoffrey in 1939, a young man in England who enters the Diplomatic Service before the start of World War II. A linguist by training and an introvert by nature, Geoffrey finds himself working with an old rival to strengthen the French Resistance and eventually lands in a POW. Others found Geoffrey off putting, but I could understand his coldness and found him to be surprisingly sympathetic.

The second tells us about Billy in 1859. Young Billy is the third of five children in a desperately poor family. At seven years of age, BIlly is sold to a work house that sounds bleak and hopeless. Reminiscent of Oliver Twist, Billy endures brutal teachers, constant hunger and cold, "I wasn't alive, I was only breathing. At night in the bed in the floor I slept. I pulled the blanket right up over my head. I didn't have any thoughts. I didn't know anything to think about. And I didn't dream neither." Patience, luck, and constant effort enable Billy to change his circumstances. As Billy prospers, his life grows complicated - and his story develops.

The next three stories are of women.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Blue in Washington TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"A Possible Life" is a collection of five separate novellas with only the occasional small connection between them. They are written in five time periods, although the dates given as chapter/story titles (1938, 1859, 2029, 1822 and 1971) are just place-holders for periods of time. If there is a central theme to the stories it is that life experience is more about the complexities of human relationships (or the lack thereof) than the experiencing of events. The book's/stories' perspectives seemed to me to be distinctly English, despite the setting of three of the accounts in Italy, France and the U.S. This is particularly important when the stories focus on relationships between children and parents, I think.

I found some of these tales moving at times: a man lives through the horror of a Nazi concentration camp in the service of the killers and returns to live out the rest of his years burdened with the immensity of that experience; another man is sent away as a child to a London work house by his parents but never repudiates his obligations to that family as an adult; a woman scientist participates in scientific investigation that proves that humans have no real souls; a peasant woman lives a life of unquestioning service to a loathsome bourgeois family after a profound religious awakening; and a musician becomes the enabler for a self-absorbed singer of prodigious talent at a considerable emotional cost.

But ultimately, their impact and interest are uneven overall. For the most part, these are not characters that you like very much--and you don't get the impression that the author really wants your love as much as perhaps your respect for them. These are people thrust into situations and relationships that are painful or tedious or bewildering.
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