“ Author: Sebastian Faulks / Format: CD-Audio / Date of publication: 13 September 2012 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Cornerstone / Title: A Possible Life / ISBN 13: 9781846573644 / ISBN 10: 1846573644 / Alternative EAN: 9780091936808 „
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Sebastian Faulks is perhaps best known for his epic works which are deeply ambitious in scale and subject matter. A Possible Life is different. Rather than detailing the lives of its characters in great depth detail, it consists of five unconnected short stories which tell (almost) the whole life of an individual in a shorter novella format.
Working within the constraints of the short story/novella, Faulks does a reasonable good job. He constructs some interesting tales, built around convincing characters and settings. Each of the stories is interesting, feasible and keeps the reader engaged. All are well-written and whilst some (inevitably) are stronger than others, each one contains at least something of interest.
Faulks should certainly be applauded for trying something different. Previous books (particularly Human Traces) traced the course of someone's life in exhaustive detail, so it's good to see him imposing some limits on himself and adapt his style to much more concise form of writing. Yet, despite praising the concept, you just know that there's a "But" coming, don't you?
And here it is. Whilst you might applaud the book's concept, some of the stories end up feeling like teasers for a proper, full blown novel. Whilst it's an interesting to cover an entire life in around 80 pages, it also leaves you feeling a little cheated. One of the great strengths of Faulks as a writer is his attention to detail and his ability to convincingly recreate particular periods in history. It's what gives his novels depth and credibility.
The short story format robs him of that opportunity. Yes, he does well to create some interesting tales in such a short space of time, but I always felt like I was being short-changed; like these stories were only telling me about the characters and their experiences in a very superficial way and there was a lot more to know. They piqued my curiosity and I wanted to know more. In some ways, that shows Faulks has done his job; in other ways it's frustrating because you can't find out any more.
A Possible Life displays a richness that few other authors can manage. It is intellectual without being patronising or snobby, his language is rich and appropriate without being clever for the sake of it and his ability to recreate a sense of time or place remains second to none. Yet, once again this richness merely makes the reader wonder how good these stories might have been if Faulks had chosen to expand them into full-blown novels.
Faulks' skill with language comes to the fore in the way that the four individual tales are presented. Each is narrated from a first person perspective, yet although they have all been written by the same person, each has a very different "voice", appropriate to the person telling the tale. The first story, for example, tells of the wartime experiences of a middle class, educated school teacher and it drips of someone from that social class and era. By direct contrast, the second story features an illiterate pauper, whose formative years are spent in the workhouse. Once again, his speech patterns and idioms are exactly what you would expect from someone with that background. As an author, Faulks has an enviable chameleonic skill that makes his style suitable for any character from any time.
Inevitably, some of the tales are stronger or more interesting than others and some feel a little less rushed, yet they all make for interesting reads. The one exception is the final story which both Mrs SWSt and I agreed was by far the weakest. This was disappointing as it left the reader with a rather anti-climactic feeling as the book was closed for the final time.
It's also something of a shame that the stories are unconnected. Whilst this is a deliberate decision, it would have felt more satisfying to link them in some way (other than thematically) and to draw out these links in a coda to the stories. Still, this is being somewhat picky, since this was never Faulks' intention.
Whilst Faulks' style and strengths as an author doesn't naturally lend itself to the short story format, A Possible Life is still an interesting book. The constraints of the short story format might occasionally be frustrating, but four out of the five stories are interesting, and that's not a bad return on your investment of time and money.
The paperback and Kindle edition of A Possible Life will cost around £8. Whilst this might initially sound quite expensive, this is a book that you will want to keep and read again, so it's not too bad an investment.
A Possible Life
(c) Copyright SWSt 2013