Sebastian Faulks's new book A Possible Life (from which I quoted the other day) is subtitled "A Novel in Five Parts". It is just that, each part or individual story linked to the others in ways which are subtle and surprising, seemingly coincidental but always meaningful, and thus the whole is greater than the sum of those five parts.
The stories are set in different countries and at different times, but it is chiefly their points of connection – or divergence – which play out the book’s theme, that is whether individuals are actually distinguished, one from another, or are in fact all part of the same vast and interconnected drama, ‘the same joined-up life’.
From a World War Two labour camp to a Victorian workhouse, a 1960s American singer/songwriter whose work describes a life in a few lyrics, and an Italian neuroscientist researching the physical basis of human consciousness, each character is fully realised and each personal history, though brief in novelistic terms, is pleasingly complete. What this amounts to is a book of imagination, delicacy and sensitivity; perfectly pitched, profound, and beautifully rendered, it explores the possible lives, the paths and opportunities taken or missed, which cross-hatch human existence.