A Possible Life
How do the choices we make radically change our lives, in terms of our overall trajectory, our relationships, our beliefs? In Faulks’ (Charlotte Gray, Birdsong) excellent new novel, readers get not one, but five sets of characters whose lives are all permanently altered by a choice. Although none of the characters is repeated throughout the “novel in five parts,” the struggle with identity and selfhood ties the stories together.
The book begins with Geoffrey, teaching at an English boy’s prep school on the eve of World War II. His traumatic experiences during the war change him, and he struggles to deal with the person he had to become in order to survive. Billy is the second protagonist, forever changed by the choice his parents made to send him to the workhouse in Victorian London, when he was only 7 years old. The third story is set in Italy in the near future — 2029 — where we meet Elena, who is very interested in science, and scanning the human brain, to try to determine what it is that makes us human. She has the most difficulty in living with her choices, as she, out of all the characters in the novel, is the one who has to deal with the scientific answer to family problems and unrequited love.
The shortest, but no less powerful, story is about Jeanne, an illiterate and very religious servant in a small town in France in 1822. The final, and longest, tale searingly documents Anya’s struggle to balance music and love in 1970s New York and Los Angeles. Faulks’s creation of five different worlds leaves the reader pondering how happy the characters, and we, would be, had other choices been made.