Customer Reviews


204 Reviews
5 star:
 (58)
4 star:
 (61)
3 star:
 (44)
2 star:
 (25)
1 star:
 (16)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Five stories or one?
`A Possible Life' is subtitled a `Novel in Five Parts'. These parts are, in fact, five apparently separate short stories about individual characters in different times and locations. They include a mild school teacher who finds himself in a Nazi concentration camp, a pop musician living a hedonistic life in 1970s USA, a scientist in Italy in the near future, a former...
Published on 12 Nov 2012 by Reddy

versus
55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Five lives--some struggling, some striving, all wondering at the end
"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...
Published on 26 Oct 2012 by Blue in Washington


‹ Previous | 1 221 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Five stories or one?, 12 Nov 2012
This review is from: A Possible Life (Hardcover)
`A Possible Life' is subtitled a `Novel in Five Parts'. These parts are, in fact, five apparently separate short stories about individual characters in different times and locations. They include a mild school teacher who finds himself in a Nazi concentration camp, a pop musician living a hedonistic life in 1970s USA, a scientist in Italy in the near future, a former workhouse inmate in the nineteenth century and a simple French woman living as a servant during the Napoleonic Wars.

This is a diverse range of settings, but Faulks' skills as a writer meant I became absorbed into these diverse lives of both male and female characters. There's no doubt that Faulks is attempting something profound - like his Italian scientist who is studying the brain to determine the essence of what makes us human - he is attempting to define a commonality between all human experience.

Some buildings appear in more than one story - a French farmhouse and a Victorian workhouse - but the characters themselves feel a connection to other times and places and lives. They all face choices between one thing and another, the `possible life' of the title. At some points I almost felt that Faulks was suggesting some kind of reincarnation when his characters catch glimpses into other existences and times.

But I'm not sure that the author might be going a step too far in his linking of stories and lives across time and space. At times he seems to be leading the reader by the hand to show us the connections. After all, if you're a regular reader of short stories, you'll know that the best of these writers can achieve this without telling us that they are. It is an enjoyable, thought-provoking book but I don't know that it is really more than a sum of its parts.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Five lives--some struggling, some striving, all wondering at the end, 26 Oct 2012
By 
Blue in Washington "Barry Ballow" (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Possible Life (Hardcover)
"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 perhaps your respect for them. These are people thrust into situations and relationships that are painful or tedious or bewildering. They all survive in one fashion or another, and sometimes their survival is a real triumph, but mostly it's just basic survival with a modest sense of satisfaction in that achievement.

While I think there is some good story-telling in these five mostly narratives, what I would have liked to see with greater generosity from the author, was warmth and even some joy in the characters. As it is, they have been given rather meager rations of both by him, which makes the book less than it could have been (in my opinion).
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


83 of 90 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Intriguing Quintet of Stories, 14 Sep 2012
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Possible Life (Hardcover)
Sebastian Faulks' latest book: 'A Possible Life', although described as a novel by the publishers, is actually five short stories moving from World War II, to a Victorian workhouse, forward in time to Italy in 2029, back to nineteenth century France and finally to California in the early 1970s.

In the first story 'A Different Man' we meet Geoffrey Talbot, a young half-French schoolmaster, working in prep school, who volunteers to go to France as part of a special unit during WWII. Before Geoffrey knows it, he has been captured by the Nazis and instead of being sent to a prisoner of war camp, he is sent to a death camp in Poland where he is given the absolute nightmare of a job involving the incineration of the bodies of Jewish men, women and children. Geoffrey copes by imagining himself playing cricket for his local club and stepping out to bat in front of scores of spectators watching from their deckchairs in the July sunshine; however when things become particularly harrowing and Geoffrey reaches the stage where he feels he would rather die than go on, he decides to make plans to escape...

In the second story 'The Second Sister' we are introduced to Billy, a young boy who is sent to the workhouse when his parents can no longer feed him. The story is narrated by Billy as he shares with the reader the story of his rise from beggardom to becoming a slum landlord. In this section the writing moves from the eloquent language of the prep school master in the first story, to the ungrammatical and colloquial language of a Victorian London urchin, which brings a totally different feel to the book.

In the third story we move to the future in 'Everything Can Be Explained', where we meet Elena, a neuroscientist who discovers the part of the brain that explains the mystery of higher levels of consciousness; however, will she discover that science cannot explain absolutely everything? The fourth story 'A Door into Heaven' is the poignant story of Jeanne, an exploited servant in nineteenth century France, who barely has a sense of self, let alone a higher level of consciousness, who nevertheless manages to find her door into heaven. The fifth and longest story is 'You Next Time' which follows the story of Anya King, a young and talented singer songwriter in the late sixties/early seventies as she moves from relative obscurity to fame, with a little help from alcohol, tranquillisers and from the man who falls deeply in love with her, her manager, Freddie.

Sebastian Faulks is a versatile writer who has written some wonderful novels and the quality of writing in 'A Possible Life' is, as expected, excellent. His descriptions of life in the death camp in the first story were horrifically good; I cannot get Geoffrey's experiences out of my mind and I am still thinking about it now, even though I have started reading another book. In each of the stories in 'A Possible Life' we see the characters searching for a connection with others and for a meaning to their lives and, as we read on, we might begin to question what real control do we have over our own destinies. However, is there a satisfying conclusion to the questions raised and do these stories hang together as a novel? For me, I found this book actually worked better when considered as a collection of five very loosely linked short stories/novellas or, as Faulks describes it himself, as a five part symphony examining the subtleties of human interaction. Although very skilfully composed, I feel that as a novel, this was not a wholly satisfying read - but as a collection of stories, I found much to admire and enjoy in the author's excellent writing.

4 Stars.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Possible life by Sebastian Faulks, 12 Dec 2012
By 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Possible Life (Hardcover)
Having purchased this book as a book rather than on my kindle, so that I could pass it on to friends, etc. It was so disappointing that I would not waste their time.
Having been a great fan of Sebastian Faulks over many years and read everything, I was stunned he would attempt such drivel. Five short stories, supposedly sending the reader a life message but none of them good or certainly not even able to record their content a week after I have finished it. Charlote Grey was good. Human Traces excellent. Having said those two, nothing has come anywhere near to Birdsong. His James Bond novel was poor, so what has gone wrong with this once great writer. Better to have writers block than turn out this stuff. Sorry but other friends who bought, also feel the same as me. A. Fitzpatrick, Solihull.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of his best books, 12 Jun 2014
By 
Richard Brown (Hove, E.Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Possible Life (Paperback)
These five short stories range in time and place, from 19th century France and England, to '60s America, and to an Italy set in the future. Each of them have the potential for five short novels, but in a dazzling display of skill and a masterly control of his material, Faulks condenses each narrative into something essential, something which, though pared down, is full of life.

Much has been made of the apparent connections between the stories - its been misleadingly called a novel because of these - but I did not find this aspect of the collection either obvious or helpful. Put any five short stories by the same author between covers and you will find connections of one kind or another if you look for them. Worrying about this is a distraction from their very real quality.

In this collection Faulks displays his gift for character and his seemingly effortless ability to evoke a specific time and place. He is at home describing a foul prison camp as he is a public school; he can summon life in a 19th French village as he can the hippy life of the pop music scene in '60s America. He creates real, varied, credible, exceptional characters: he doesn't just describe them and set them moving and speaking, he takes you into their heart and soul, he traces the significant events that change them, he demonstrates with compassion and sensitivity what lies at the heart of his characters. If there is an overriding theme in this collection, it is about the nature of identity, about the core of the self, about how love, its heights and disappointments, can shock one into a sense of one's true self.

His narrative skill and grasp of historical reality is not in doubt; at the heart of all good literature is character and in this he excels.
I've read many of Faulks's novels over the years. 'Birdsong' is the one he'll best be remembered for, of course; but some passages in 'A Possible Life' compare well with it. I think it's one of his best books.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sadly, it didn't work for me, 23 Dec 2013
This review is from: A Possible Life (Paperback)
This book contains five unrelated short stories, with a common theme. There were elements within it that I found to be interesting, but most of the stories I found to be rather directionless and slow. The book focuses on characters and interactions, rather than plots. Since the book consists of short stories, I found that, with the possible exception of the first story, it doesn't quite develop the characters in sufficient depth for my taste.
At the end of the book , the author describes this as his favourite book, and I think that probably gives a hint as to why I personally didn't like this so much. I believe that he has written a book that he himself would want to read, rather than being written for the general readership. In principle, this is something I have to applaud. Established authors often hit on a formula, and then stick to that formula, almost being afraid to try something new. Often this sells books and gives the established readership what they want, without ever trying to move away something totally different (Possibly for fear of alienating their readership and failing to capture new readers who have already tried that author). The author has, at least, tried something different here. However, rather like any art form, it is often a question of taste and this was not to mine. After having read the brilliant Birdsong, and equally good Charlotte Grey, in which not only the characters, but the plots are well developed, I found this book disappointing. The first short story was, in my opinion, the best, and this is closest to some of his previous works.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Something of a disappointment, 26 Aug 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Possible Life (Paperback)
I have long been a fan of Sebastian Faulks - I think that Birdsong is one of the best contemporary novels I have ever read - and I have really enjoyed most of his other books, particularly Human Traces and On Green Dolphin Street.
A Possible Life was, naturally, well written and is a profound attempt to examine shared humanity by way of five very different short stories. As short stories, a couple of them work very well indeed, but the book does not cohere and left me feeling very dissatisfied at the end. Perhaps read it as short stories with breaks between each of them? Not a good introduction to Faulks and not to be treated as a novel.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 19 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Possible Life (Kindle Edition)
I'd started, so I finished, but I didnt enjoy this book. I was expecting a novel but found myself constantly searching for links between the short stories. Is there a message? An explanation by the author might have been helpful. It left me annoyed, puzzled and somewhat depressed.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mmmm!, 14 Feb 2013
By 
Gerry Mac "Gerry" (SALTCOATS, AYRSHIRE United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Possible Life (Paperback)
Just to say that the publishers ought to be prosecuted under the 'Trades Descriptions Act'. By no stretch of the imagination other than that both genres use words (!) can this be called a novel, in the conventional sense of the word. No matter how many pseudo-intellectuals claim connections between these 5 discrete stories, such connections simply don't exist... unless you're the kind of clever clogs who opines that a collection of bricks or a dirty, unmade bed a la the Turner prize for 'art' is saying something meaningful. Sadly, Faulkes has never recaptured the brilliance of 'Birdsong' or 'Human Traces'...Engleby, for instance, was drearily dreadful, I'm afraid.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Do they sit down and read them at all?, 14 Mar 2014
This review is from: A Possible Life (Paperback)
Here again is confirmation that professional reviewers don't read the books they review, or don't read them to the end, or read them too quickly. It's Sebastian Faulks, so it must be good, right? Someone for "The Times ": ... the stories acquire power as resonances between them accrete (sic). Only at the end do you realise you've been won over by their quiet, glinting virtuosity (sic again);" That would be the quiet, glinting virtuosity of "tears erupted from my eyes" - how painful for him - and "he smoked about half a kilo of grass a day", right?
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 221 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

A Possible Life
A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks (Hardcover - 13 Sep 2012)
£10.59
Not in stock; order now and we'll deliver when available
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews