Sebastian Faulks’ latest novel takes the reader from a Nazi concentration camp to Seventies America by way of Hackney, France’s Limousin and Mantua in Italy. Each chapter focuses on a highly particular life and the decisions, missed opportunities, pain and drama that shapes character and causes us all to travel down certain roads.
The novel reads like a series of short stories each with its own cast. Geoffrey, the terrified young prisoner at a Nazi death camp; Billy the product of a Victorian workhouse; Elena, an Italian researcher into human consciousness; Jeanne, a Limousin servant; and Anya a Seventies musical sensation. Their stories are different but we are left feeling they are all connected, their lives overlapping.
Faulks’ writing has been described as both popular and literary, and A Possible Life continues in that vein. As with all his novels the research that goes in to truly create a sense of time and place is immense – even his 2029 north Italy is totally believable. But it is his ability to build characters and to draw the reader into their lives that makes him such a great writer, and such a great entertainer.
A Possible Life is easily read. Each chapter is a complete story allowing you to dip in and out at will. However, by doing this you could detract from the over-arching theme: the search for the understanding of what shapes our characters and our lives, and how closely connected human beings truly are.