The Possible World by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

I do love a cryptic book … but this one was so cryptic, I feel like I may have entirely fabricated the author’s intentions in my mind just to feel like there was a purpose to it all! But in doing that the novel made me really search for the meaning behind it, and there’s nothing I love doing more.

The Possible World consists of accounts from three characters: Ben, a six-year-old boy who witnesses a homicide and subsequently suffers from multiple personality disorder; Lucy, a hard-working ER doctor whose work suffocates her relationship to the point of collapse; and Clare, a resident in a care home approaching her 100th birthday.

The links between these characters are more tenuous than I’d hoped, and for the most part the narratives run in isolation from one another. And for this reason I wholly agree with other reviews that have described this book as a ‘unique’ experience. But yet I was completely drawn in by all of their stories and it wasn’t long before I could see the similarities between three very different people from three different generations.

“We’re all of us obsessed with our own story. Especially those of us near the end of it. We go over and over it.”

Naturally I was drawn to Lucy’s experiences the most, having experienced a relationship break-up myself fairly recently. There were moments when I felt I couldn’t have said it better myself:  

“My life has been made real by retelling… And the biggest, most intricate story of all will go unreported. He will never know the details of my heartbreak; that story will stay within me, forever untold.”

But for a similar reason Clare’s perspective looking back at her life was incredibly uplifting, and an acknowledgement of all the change and heartache we all inevitably experience in some way or another.

 “We leave shadows of ourselves in the places we change… they’re all with me still, an abandoned regiment flickering separately in the back of my mind, as if I am still living all those lives at once.”

“We have things for a while, and then they’re gone, and we’re lucky to have had them at all.”

What I took away from this novel was how our lives are defined by memories, but how sometimes they’re not reliable enough to distinguish what was actually real. And that could be because a lot of time has passed, or due to a trauma, or simply just because our minds have decided to remember things a certain way.

“I had told myself a story […] and that may have happened, but my clear memories stopped […] and I was never sure whether or not I’d dreamed the rest.”

I have definitely found myself doubting my experience of certain life events based on what I think happened at the time – did it really happen that way? Or am I just imagining it? The thing is I’ll never know, because it’s been and gone and all I’ll have for the rest of time is my warped memory of how I thought it played out.

I’d be interested to know what other people take away from The Possible World. I’m rating it 3 stars because the storyline itself didn’t capture me as much as other novels have, and therefore it’s not one of the most memorable. But I’ve never read a fiction book with the ability to create such personal journeys for the reader, and for that reason I’d highly recommend it.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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