You like how I went into the future, grabbed this book, and read it?? Mwahaha. That’s because I’ve got friends in the right places.
This was my first experience reading Faulks, whom I’ve heard of before. I know he’s well known and all that, so I was excited to read this. I’ve read a few reviews of A Possible Life that weren’t positive, but I had a very positive experience reading this. The complaints are, generally, that the five stories seem unconnected and just kind of ramble along without any unifying thread. I disagree.
The first story is of Geoffrey, a British spy traveling in France during World War II. The woman he is working with betrays him and his comrade to the Germans, and they end up in a camp in Poland. There they experience all sorts of horrifying realities of WWII, until Geoffrey miraculously escapes and is able to return to his quiet teaching job in England many years later.
The story of Billy is very sad. Set in 1859 in London, Billy marries his childhood sweetheart, Alice. Billy and Alice take in Alice’s mother and sister, Billy’s father and brother, and care for their own children. Unfortunately, Alice is suddenly and inexplicably paralyzed, stuck in a vegetative state for the next fifteen years. During this time, Billy develops an attraction to Alice’s sister Nancy. Both of them believe and have been told by doctors that Alice is practically the living dead. Nancy and Billy are married and begin to have their own family. One day, they are greeted with the news that Alice has recovered and is being sent home. The fallout of these circumstances is heartbreaking.
Set in Italy 2029, the next story is about Elena and Bruno, adopted siblings who lose touch after the death of their father. They reunite after many years and become lovers, before discovering that they are actually half-siblings. This news ruins their relationship. Elena is by this time a famous scientist, researching the idea of the soul. Is it an actual biological phenomenon? What makes humans human?
Jeanne is an illiterate peasant who lives as the nanny and servant to a family in early nineteenth-century France, blind in her belief in God. Most people overlook her, thinking her simple-minded, but we discover through experiences in her youth that Jeanne has had to make several difficult choices in her life.
The last story is of Jack and Anya, a musical prodigy and her manager. They fall in love, but battle Anya’s extreme stage fright and the mysteries in her past. Finally, Anya runs away, leaving Jack and her musical career behind for a few years.
The common thread between all of these stories, the reason that some people felt the plots wandered, is the mystifying circumstances that each character experiences. These stories are a celebration of life, of deciding to keep living despite hard times. Why did Geoffrey’s friend betray him? What was Alice’s mystery illness? Why didn’t Elena and Bruno’s father tell them they were siblings? What if Jeanne had made a different choice? What if Anya had stayed in New York? We don’t know, and that’s the point. Things happen; we don’t know why. Yet, somehow, we go on and life continues, heartbreaking and beautiful. People are somehow more than just the sum of their parts, more than just bones and flesh and circuits firing. But, in every way, life is a mystery.