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One multiplied by five equals six
on 10 March 2014
Much of the criticism of Faulks’s most recent offering is founded on the observation that it is a collection of short stories rather than a coherent novel. I disagree. The five stories here accrete like the five human senses uniting in the novel’s fictitious ‘Glockner’s Isthmus’ to create a compelling commentary on human consciousness, guilt, bravery, weakness and brilliance. This Gestaltist approach is technically challenging but ultimately rewarding in offering an insight into the human condition that is far reaching.
The author cleverly creates coherence between the stories by cross referencing places objects and characters. In so doing ‘A possible Life’ stands as a unique novel which contrasts the permanence of places and objects with the transience of human existence and in particular the fragile nature of a single human life,
Faulks investigates some profound notions here: the nature of human consciousness, immortality, and the poetic versus the prosaic. However the narrative excels at portraying the lives of different human beings in different places at different times and finding commonality- the defining features of what makes us self aware beings.
Thus successive protagonists in time and space are faced with difficult choices, lives that might have been, regrets, and guilt. We are repeatedly reminded of humanity’s brilliance, creativity, resilience and courage but also its selfishness, lack of commitment and ability to betray and hurt those we love.
As one character observes: ‘accepting that we are no more than recycled matter does not take away the aching of the heart’. Such is the price of sentience and awareness of our own mortality.