This is not an easy book.
It’s not easy to read. The first eighty pages are as bleak and depressing as anything you are ever likely to read. It took some gritting of teeth to persevere.
The tone and pace changed utterly then and I was confused. You just need to go with it. The book explains itself towards the end and it is magnificent. This book is awe-inspiring. It is the work of a virtuoso.
Sebastian Faulks asks the big questions. What makes us human? What distinguishes us from apes. Where is the magic of self-awareness held?
If the book is a concept album, there are five songs.
Deeply moving songs of lost love and fractured identity.
Each is distinct although there are subtle, immensely satisfying, cross-references.
Each song is a different world. You try and force them together, you diminish each one.
The first song describes the complete annihilation of the human spirit. The second tells of survival and the desire to provide a better life for our children. The third imagines a scientific identification of the soul. The fourth searches for a God and the fifth seeks immortality through art. Well, that’s how I saw it. I think you could probably write a doctoral thesis on this book and I only took in the half of it.
The writing of each part is spell-binding. I felt that the second, in particular, could easily have been a very satisfying novel in it’s own right. The drawing together of the parts to make a whole is masterful. As a reader, I was exhausted from just trying to hold it all in my head. The last few pages made my chest expand and my imagination soar, as though I was on the verge of understanding. The sensation of hearing an orchestra crescendo or a ten foot wave crash on the beach.
Life is not easy but we’re all in it together.