Sebastian Faulks ‘A Possible Life’ – an Unsatisfying Read

Having previously read and greatly enjoyed Birdsong and The Girl at the Lion D’Or, I was very much looking forward to reading another Sebastian Faulks, in fact, one of his most recent efforts, as A Possible Life was published in 2012. Faulks has become known and respected for his historical fiction which often finds itself in France, where he vividly represents life and its challenges to his reader.

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Unfortunately, whatever A Possible Life was trying to do, it did not come through successfully in my reading.

The novel, rather than being one complete story, is instead five shorter stories which bounce back and forth in time, with varying settings, characters, and hugely different themes. I had certain expectations when I began reading – I made the mistake of judging a book by its cover – and I found myself reading of wartime in France; certainly Faulks-like. Though not immediately enwrapped in the story of the teacher and cricket lover going off, undercover, to occupied France, I did get into the story as it picked up pace, finding the trip to a concentration camp to be particularly compelling. However, as soon as I was well and truly hooked, I was then pulled out of that scene to a number of years later in which the intrigue of the war story had nigh-on died, and it was back to bleary old England. Then, the end.

What follows this are four more stories of varying success. Though I cannot deny the skill of writing and Faulks’ ability to morph his writing from character to character, place to place, time to time in each of these stories, they were not each a compelling read. Some of these snippets of life attempted to so fully encompass the lives of their central character that the narrative whooshed along at such a pace that the person in question managed to live their entire lives within the folds of perhaps as little as 30 pages. This style meant that the narration at times seemed greedy, dragging me at great speed through the story rather than leading me willingly.

Having said this, there were stories that I felt sucked in to, these being predominantly the story of the boy who rises from rags to riches, and the finale of the book where two musical souls are intricately intertwined then wrenched apart. Even these stories, however, which so beautifully set up the new world and its new characters in so few words, at points rushed to cover decades of time in the latter stages which, rather than making me feel as though I had caught a comprehensive glimpse of this person’s life, instead left me feeling alienated from my initial enrapture.

The skill of Faulks’ writing is not under contention, but there were a number of times in which it was only my determination to finish the book rather than a desire to finish the story that stopped me from quitting the book unfinished.

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