Small lives, linked by love and memories
Sebastian Faulks has always seemed a particularly 19th century European writer, creating big novels, which often grapple with ideas, mingling the stories of individuals with how they clash and react with wider history.
Here, he does something entirely different, taking 5 separate short stories, almost novellas, and examines different people’s lives. There are 5 different historical frameworks, one set in the near future, a couple in the fairly recent past, Second World War and the 70s, and the others in the previous century. Locations move from this country to Europe, with one set in Laurel Canyon.
Always beautifully written, and successfully managing the different voices of the times, places and individual narrators, most of the ‘possible lives’ are those of small people, the little unremembered legion who do not blaze like stars across any other firmaments other than those of their close family and friends. Nevertheless each life, however small, ripples outward..
One subtheme which recurs, is connectedness, how we touch and connect with others, and how at times the sense of “I” falls away and that of a greater ‘we’ seems more real. The final, Laurel Canyon story enlarges on this, exploring how music and song speak to millions.
Set against the sense of interconnection is another theme about the uniqueness and personal sense of memory defining the self as unique. Indeed, the story set in the near future involves a search for where memories are placed, in the brain.
This was a very well crafted read, even though ultimately it did not grab and shake me as intensely as Faulks’ writing at times does. Personally, it was the first, unfulfilled life of the schoolmaster, concealing deep, horrific tragedy and suffering, which moved me most, giving that sense of the elegeic which Faulks manages so well.
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