Anybody who had to suffer the embarrassment of analysing one of the numerous sex scenes in Birdsong at A-level may be forgiven for giving Sebastian Faulks and A Possible Life a wide berth. But to do so would be to deprive yourself of a genuinely enjoyable novel.
Faulks has a knack for writing fiction that is enjoyable and easy to read without ever selling himself short. Straddling the line between bestseller and literary fiction, A Possible Life takes the Cloud Atlas route of recounting five interwoven stories, though admittedly with less ambition. There are no dystopian or post-apocalyptic futures in Faulks’ novel, just cricket and Victorian workhouses; it’s a very English affair.
Though enjoyable, the novel is not without its faults. It’s clear that though entertaining in their brevity, individually none of the stories would be gripping enough to sustain a reader’s attention for more than a hundred pages. This can cause the pacing of the novel to suffer at times. Far too much time is given over to the story of a thinly-veiled, female Bob Dylan tribute whose music can seemingly change the world and oddly little space is assigned to the ordeals of a concentration camp survivor.
One can’t help but feel that Faulks has combined five unrelated stories and thrown in a casual reference here or there like the post-credits scene in a Marvel film.
Though at times his Middle England world view and constant references to cricket can become grating, Faulks proves Hemingway right, “all you have to do is write one true sentence.” Faulks will sucker punch you with a passage of such honesty and truth about human life that all the superficiality of cricket scores and track listings melt away to leave you with “the chance to feel your heart beat in someone else’s life”. And isn’t that the goal of all great writing?
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