I have literally just finished this book, taken a moment to drink a glass of red while I begin to assimilate my thoughts, and my thoughts were, basically, READ THIS BOOK!
Skilfully linking five short stories of incredible beauty together, sharing a common theme but each with it’s own unique slant, this book has taken my breath away. Possibly because I was so absorbed in each narrative, it was only in Part V that I noticed a possible linking reference made; there is a London lawyer named Cheeseman – could this be the ‘Ched’ Cheeseman, Geoffreys student, from Part One? And, musing upon that, I wonder, could Jack, (or Freddy), the musician turned manager in Part V, be a descendent of poor Billy Webb from Part II? And is ‘poor’ the right word to use for Billy, since he achieved happiness at the end of his appearance because his descendants would not share his horrible memories, but instead, benefit and grow from his eventual success?
Life is full of possibilities, and so many are dependent on the choices we, or our parents/caregivers, make and the paths, or people, we follow. In this book I genuinely felt privileged to take an intimate journey with five people looking at their own lives through the lens of retrospection, from different eras, places, worlds; and with his customary consummate skill, the author placed the reader firmly in the same room as his character. Legend. There’s a reason both Mum and I love Sebastian Faulks’ writing.
Part I is about Geoffrey, and coming from a very middle class English background, I ‘know’ Geoffrey already. But when stiff upper lip meets forced labour at the crematoriums in a Nazi prison camp, there will eventually be repercussions. This was a hard part to read and I think the author was deliberately brutal in his descriptive passages, perhaps to remind us all that even though this happened almost eighty years ago, we should never forget and nor should we allow such cruelty to surface again. Geoffrey survives by closing his eyes and imagining himself at the wicket on a Hampshire cricket pitch… how very comforting and quintessentially English summer is a village cricket match; shady elm trees, and picnics, and the sound of leather on willow.
In Part II we are in the dodgy end of Victorian London with Billy, taken to the workhouse at seven years old by his mother whom he never sees again. Billy for me was the character who made his life, or at least that of his descendents, ‘possible’ more than the others – he makes good despite all odds, and the tone of the writing in this part is quite unlike the others, as if the author also holds Billy close to his heart. At the close of Part II Billy is entirely pure in his gratitude that his descendants are heading into a future than he never had the possibility of and he is even more grateful that his memories will die with him.
Part III was very clever and with a delightful twist too – Elena is our protagonist and she’s a quirky one. (Here’s another link too – the one eyed Madonna figure appears in this part for the first time, again in Part IV.) Continuing into the not too distant future, in this story there are literally so many possible outcomes and an interesting, although I haven’t yet Googled to see if this has any basis in scientific fact, diversion into the structure of the brain – is the fact that everything that makes us believe we are ‘human’ merely due to a fortuitous neural link? Fascinating topic!
Part IV. ‘A Door Into Heaven’. I plan to read this part again in the morning and may well adjust what I write here as a result, although I’ll let you know if I do. I found Jeanne a little creepy personally, although if I had grown up then and as she did, (an orphan in early 19th century provincial France), perhaps I too would have been just as servile and gullible. The ending of this story left me relieved though – and I think this part was deeper than I recognised this afternoon. Post Scriptum – read it again, she is definitely odd!
And finally, Part V. I loved it. Simple, of it’s time, and in all truthfulness, if I could live on a farm set amongst woodlands in upstate New York, with someone beautiful that I adored, and free of all requirements and commitments, I’m sure I’d be content. But, would I? Was Jack/Freddy? And how much did the moral attitudes of the Era of Liberation, the Seventies, help or hinder? I’m left with questions, always a sign of a Bloody Good Book.
Mum read this in February 2014 and again in September 2016 – there are not many with a double date annotation but this is one and deservedly so. I’m going to declare this book a Keeper and not gift it forward, I want to read it again because it has really made me think. Seriously, go find a copy. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Thanks Mum X