Title: The Possible World
Author: Liese O’Halloran Schwarz
Genres: Literary Fiction, General Fiction
Source: Netgalley UK
Publication Date: June 26th 2018 in the US and July 12th in the UK
My Rating: ★★★★★
An astonishing, deeply moving novel about the converging lives of a young boy who witnesses a brutal murder, the doctor who tends to him, and an elderly woman guarding her long-buried past.
It seems like just another night shift for Lucy, an overworked ER physician in Providence, Rhode Island, until six-year-old Ben is brought in as the sole survivor from a horrifying crime scene. He’s traumatised and wordless; everything he knows has been taken from him in an afternoon. It’s not clear what he saw, or what he remembers.
Lucy, who’s grappling with a personal upheaval of her own, feels a profound, unexpected connection to the little boy. She wants to help him…but will recovering his memory heal him, or damage him further?
Across town, Clare will soon be turning one hundred years old. She has long believed that the lifetime of secrets she’s been keeping don’t matter to anyone anymore, but a surprising encounter makes her realise that the time has come to tell her story. As Ben, Lucy, and Clare struggle to confront the events that shattered their lives, something stronger than fate is working to bring them together.
This is the best book I have read for ages. The writing style is both effortless and expressive. The characters are full, rich and utterly credible.
There are three protagonists. Ben a young boy who has amnesia due to a traumatic event. Lucy is the doctor who examines Ben in the ER after this event and is the only one he will speak to. Finally, Claire is around 100 years old (her exact age is unknown). She is proud and prickly but unlike most of the other residents in her care home, she has all her marbles intact. I have a soft spot for elderly ladies who refuse to be stereotypically sweet and placid and Claire definitely fits that mould.
We see their points of view from a third person narration in alternating chapters, some long, some short and they do cross paths over the course of the book but the link between Claire and Ben isn’t clear until nearly halfway through the book.
Ben’s chapters take us through his recovery from a horror so bad to have left him with no memory of who he is. His doctors start using hypnosis to uncover the truth. Lucy’s chapters often read like a good medical drama, but she is also grieving for the loss of her marriage. Claire starts to tell, and record the story of her life, with the help of a friend and we hear how she found life and lost it again twice before she was thirty. She is strong, brave and clever and therefore unconventional for a woman in the 1930’s and 40’s.
I finished this book late last night, as I just couldn’t put it down. On finishing it I felt bereft, I missed the company of the three characters so much that If I didn’t have a virtual TBR pile of other books that I need to read in the next month I would have started right back at the beginning again.
Some folks on Goodreads have criticised this book for not having a coherent story, but I disagree. There are several stories and all of them are intertwined and codependent. The predominant themes of this book are dealing with grief and that love is not reserved for flesh, blood and family, and can be found in unconventional relationships as strongly as conventional ones. In fact, this book has produced such a strong emotional resonance with me I am feeling tearful just writing this, and that’s not like me at all.
She spent her early childhood out of the US but grew up in Washington, US. Somehow during the time she was in medical school, she found the time to write and publish her first novel, Near Canaan. She is a doctor specialised in Emergency medicine, like her characters Lucy. She lives in North Carolina.