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A Possible Life Paperback – 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Random House (2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780091936815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091936815
  • ASIN: 0091936810
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,391,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By KasaC 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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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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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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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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