REVIEW: Sebastian Faulks – A Possible Life (Review by Catherine Horne)

The day after I finished Sebastian Faulks’s astonishing new novel I sat down to a few episodes of Mad Men. In one of his many moments of boozy insight, Don Draper offers this pearl of advertising wisdom to his protégé Peggy Olson:

‘You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells.’

This quote momentarily shattered my nostalgia-fuelled swoonfest as I realised that this is exactly how I feel about Faulks’s writing. It is so popular because it stokes our emotions to such an extent that we become embroiled in the drama of his characters; we become hyper-receptive to the message that he sends; and we want more of it. And I want more of A Possible Life. So much more. I cannot recall ever being so emotionally invested in a novel and that is such an exhilarating experience.

A Possible Life has a unique structure, which serves its purpose very well. The book could possibly be thought of as 5 short stories on a similar theme, however it is probably more apt to consider the theme as the main character, and the 5 stories as examples of this particular theme in action. (Faulks himself refers to the structure as ‘symphony’- distinct movements that contribute to the whole). The novel starts out with Geoffrey, a young English schoolteacher who becomes trapped in some of the most harrowing experiences of the Second World War. We then meet a nineteenth-century British lad with a Dickensian childhood; an Italian neuroscientist from several decades in the future; a maid in Napoleonic France and, finally, a Joni Mitchell-esque music star in the early 1970s.

Although these scenarios may appear to have little in common, they are all ruminations on the directions that our lives take and the experiences that make us who we are. Some form of hardship, loss or tragedy affects each character to a significant degree. However it is their resolve to move on and create new possibilities for themselves – the ‘possible life’ of the title – that gives the novel its thematic punch. Faulks is perhaps at his most brilliant when he writes the more life-affirming segments; they never seem glib or cheesy, but rather recognise the complex layering of experience that forms the basis of the characters’ identities and lives.

And this is why A Possible Life struck such a chord with me. Ultimately we all live with regret, with loss and with heartache, but it is our ability to be affected by these experiences and to move on from them simultaneously which shapes our lives. Sebastian Faulks has an astonishing ability to capture these feelings and mirror them back so that even though you are, on the surface, reading about the fortunes of a 1970s folk star, as you delve a little deeper more your own feelings and memories become intertwined with the characters on the page. It is this personal connection that brings me back to Draper’s quote; the product is not the book itself, but rather your experience of it.

Review by Catherine Horne

Click here to buy A Possible Life from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

VINTAGE Books Celebrates its 21st Birthday with a Rainbow

VINTAGE Books have chosen a wonderful way to celebrate their 21st Birthday. They have produced a rainbow of colourful new editions of the best fiction in their impressive collection.

These are some of the best, most talked about and most lauded novels published in the last 21 years. It is an astonishing list. Novels by Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood, Philip Roth, Ian McEwan, A. S. Byatt,  J.M. Coetzee to name but a few…

If you have ever wanted to be more familiar with contemporary literature then there is no better place to start. For just over two hundred dollars you could acquire a stunning library of the best of the best in modern literature. (Just think how cool your bookcase will look!)

How fun would that be to give the full collection to someone you love!?  You could surprise them with a gift that has the potential to change their lives for the better.

Of course, you can buy them individually, too.

Imagine spending the next 21 weeks reading one great book after another… and by the end of your reading you would be familiar with some of the best names in modern literature. I bet, once you’re done, you’ll want to read more of their books. You’ll never be lost for something to read again.

The Vintage 21st Birthday Rainbow:

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

The Gathering by Anne Enright

Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor

Atonement by Ian McEwan

The Road Home by Rose Tremain

Money by Martin Amis

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Possession by A. S. Byatt

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Click here to view the VINTAGE 21 on Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

The New James Bond Novel: Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver

When I was growing up there was only one career path for me – the path trod by James Bond.

I, too, would wear a tux, arm myself with a Walther PPK, drive an Aston Martin, kill the bad guy and get the girl. As a teen I was just as complex as Bond – cold hearted, dark, misunderstood, efficient, unstoppable and highly sexed.

Though more of a Coca-Cola man, I could learn to love a Martini, I told myself. Thus, I was perfect for the job.

I’m not kidding. Secret agent was at the top of my ‘to do’ list. But then I fell in love, went travelling and when I got back instead of joining ASIO, I took a job in a bookshop and… you know how it is. By that time I was less like Sean Connery and more like Woody Allen, who played Bond’s nephew in the original Casino Royale film.

But even so, even now, deep, deep down there is a voice which continues to whisper – you are Bond.

I mean, who can read a James Bond novel without thinking they ARE James Bond? Surely only an bizarre splinter group of contrarians would read Bond because they feel a deep connection with M, or Miss Moneypenny, or Felix Leiter…

If you’re like me – if you are secretly Bond – you’ll be happy to hear that there is a BRAND NEW Bond book to read.

Ian Fleming Publications Ltd has chosen international bestselling thriller writer, Jeffery Deaver, to write a new James Bond book.

The novel is called CARTE BLANCHE and will be set in the present day. Click here to buy Carte Blanche

In the world of espionage, giving an agent carte blanche on a mission comes with an enormous amount of trust and constantly tests both personal and professional judgement. Part of the nonstop suspense in the novel is the looming question of what is acceptable in matters of national and international security. Are there lines that even James Bond should not cross? Jeffery Deaver

In Carte Blanche, Bond has been deftly updated for a contemporary setting. As part of his latest assignment, 007 travels to an assortment of exotic modern locations – including his first visit to Dubai.

This is the smirk making book trailer for Carte Blanche :

Meanwhile, Australian Bond fans may have missed DEVIL MAY CARE, the James Bond novel by Sebastian Faulks, which became Penguin’s fastest selling hardback fiction title ever, with 44,093 copies sold in the four days since it hit the shops. Click here to buy Devil May Care

Devil May Care is a masterful continuation of the James Bond legacy – an electrifying new chapter in the life of the most iconic spy of literature and film –  and was written to celebrate the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth on May 28, 1908.

Picking up where Fleming left off, Sebastian Faulks takes Bond back to the height of the Cold War in a story of almost unbearable pace and tension. Devil May Care not only captures the very essence of Fleming’s original novels but also shows Bond facing dangers with a powerful relevance to our own times.

CLICK HERE to visit our Ian Fleming Author page

CLICK HERE to visit our James Bond Character page

Who is your favourite James Bond?


Sean Connery

starred in Dr No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and Never Say Never


David Niven

starred in the satire Casino Royale


George Lazenby

starred in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service


Roger Moore

starred in Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View to a Kill


Timothy Dalton

starred in Licence to Kill and The Living Daylights


Pierce Brosnan

starred in Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day


Daniel Craig

starred in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace

Faulks on Fiction: The Secret Life of the Novel by Sebastian Faulks

The BBC have done it again. Gotta love ‘em. A series on The Secret Life of The Novel hosted by Sebastian Faulks, with interviews with many of the leading lights in modern publishing. Top marks.

I do hope it is aired on Australian free to air TV soon. And I hope I don’t miss it. I have an annoying  habit of doing that.

Down below are some sample interviews from the BBC series, but what I love most about these TV series are the accompanying books. All TV documentaries these days, no matter how good, leave me wanting more information, more details and the book is where all the best bits are usually stored.

I’ll be adding Faulks on Fiction: The Secret Life of the Novel to my shopping cart ASAP. Click here to follow my example.

The series has caused some controversy – From The Guardian via The SMH -

Remarks about children’s books made by Martin Amis on the BBC’s new book programme Faulks on Fiction, broadcast this week, have caused anger and offence among children’s writers.

“People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children’s book,” Amis said, in a sideways excursion from a chat about John Self, the antihero of his 1984 novel Money. “I say, ‘If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children’s book’, but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you’re directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable.”

“I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write,” he added. Full article – here

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Faulks on Fiction: The Secret Life of the Novel is a social history of Britain through its literature by bestselling novelist Sebastian Faulks – published to coincide with his landmark series on BBC2

The publication of Robinson Crusoe in London in 1719 marked the arrival of a revolutionary art form: the novel. British writers were prominent in shaping the new type of storytelling – one which reflected the experiences of ordinary people, with characters in whom readers could find not only an escape, but a deeper understanding of their own lives. But the novel was more than just a reflection of British life.

As Sebastian Faulks explains in this engaging literary and social history, it also helped invent the British. By focusing not on writers but on the people they gave us, Faulks not only celebrates the recently neglected act of novelistic creation but shows how the most enduring fictional characters over the centuries have helped map the British psyche – through heroes from Tom Jones to Sherlock Holmes, lovers from Mr Darcy to Lady Chatterley, villains from Fagin to Barbara Covett and snobs from Emma Woodhouse to James Bond. Accompanying a major BBC series, Faulks on Fiction is a compelling and personal take on the story of how the dazzling creations of novelists helped shape the world we live in. Continue reading

13 rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro

When pre-publication copies of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society were passed around a couple of years ago, it was obvious that the book was going to be a hand-sell sensation. And so it proved to be with a great many editions of this lovely war-time confection going on to sell squillions.

13 rue Thérèse has the same feel. Coming for a February release, this book is being presented as a lovely hardback edition. Told as a series of letters and reminiscences, and peppered with illustrations, scraps of sheet music, fading photos, this is a ostensibly a love story, set in the first half of the twentieth century. Build as a story of  “passion, memory and the seductive power of the imagination”, it certainly fulfills the publisher’s spin – it is sophisticated, imaginative, sexy and escapist. A grown-up treat.

David Ebershoff, bestselling author of The 19th Wife, writes that “this is a puzzle-novel and gave me the same fizzy satsifaction as completing a Sunday crossword. It will light up your brain, and your heart”.

All true – 13 rue Thérèse is a most satisfying read. However, to me, these descriptions ignore two really important aspects and to a certain extent, undermine the power of this remarkable novel. Like Flaubert’s Madame Bovary more than a century earlier, and Alex Miller’s very fine LoveSong of last year, Shapiro writes with enormous insight about the confusion between a woman’s desire for a child and her desire for a man. At the same time, her descriptions of the horror of the trenches during World War 1, and the lifetime legacy for those who survived, put me in mind of the extremely powerful Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks as well as parts of Louis de Bernières Birds Without Wings and David Malouf’s The Great World. Indeed, 13 rue Thérèse is so much more than a cleverly constructed love story. Continue reading

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