Sebastian Faulks’ homage to P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells made such a good impression on me that I couldn’t resist A Possible Life by this same author.
Talk about chalk and cheese. Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, though excellent, is a light, frivolous and fun story. In complete contrast, A Possible Life is a thought-provoking, serious look at human life. Both stories however, are beautifully written and left me feeling completely satisfied.
A Possible Life is made up of five separate stories which are tied together by the theme of self-awareness, something which manifests in this story as the main characters in each story wanting to be someone else, for various reasons. Several of the locations used in these stories touch very lightly on each other and a religious statue which shows up in several stories, but otherwise I could find no other connections between the characters in each separate story.
The first story is called A Different Man and follows the life of Geoffrey Talbot, an ordinary, cricket-loving Englishman. Geoffrey is middle class, attended an ordinary school and lived an ordinary life as a teacher until WW2, when he became a member of an ‘irregular force’ in France, delivering messages and aiding the French Resistance until he was captured by the Germans. After the war, Geoffrey was unable to forget the terrible things he was forced to do as a prisoner and he spent time in a mental asylum before taking up teaching again. Reading about Geoffrey’s sad and solitary life after the war left me feeling in despair, until the day he decided that he had lived his life for long enough.
The Second Sister is the second story and is told by Billy Webb, whose family were so poor during Victorian times they had to leave him at a poorhouse. When Billy’s father was able to bring him home again, Billy made the most of his opportunities and when he was able, brought a girl from the poorhouse home to live with him whom he eventually married. As Billy became more affluent he also took on the responsibility of his wife’s sister and her mother. One of these women motivated Billy to become a better and different version of himself.
Everything Can be Explained leaps into the future, to Italy in 2029 and tells the story of a young girl whose parents adopt a boy about the same age as the their daughter. The boy and girl grow to know and love each other but a tragedy separated them when they were teenagers. The girl grew up to be a scientist who discovered a particular link in the brain which explains why humans have a soul, and are “burdened with the foreknowledge of their own death – a weight no other creature had to bear.”
A Door into Heaven is the shortest of the stories, and tells of a poor Frenchwoman who worked as a nurse for a relatively well-off family. I felt the least connection with this story or character, who was the least self-aware of all of the characters in this novel.
The last story is titled You Next Time. This story is told in the first person by a successful musician in the 1970’s who fell in love with a young woman on the brink of her own stardom.
I felt that each story in this collection could have been expanded into a novel. What each character was prepared to give up to live a different life was fascinating.
I’ll probably give myself a longer break before reading another book by Sebastian Faulks, as I’ve read Jeeves and the Wedding Bells and A Possible Life within a few weeks of each other, but know I will enjoy and be challenged by whatever I read next by this author.